Mary Beth May has completed a statewide advocacy training program for people with disabilities.
But the Coon Rapids resident has been advocating for herself and others ever since a brain tumor was discovered and the surgery to remove it left her disabled.
“I believe it is important to be able to speak out for myself and others,” May said.
Born and raised in Minnesota, May moved with her family to Colorado when she was 17 years old.
Her brain tumor was not diagnosed until 1995 after she had moved to Colorado and she had the surgery when she was 18, according to May.
But she had had different symptoms for several years, including headaches since she was 14, May said.
“The doctor guessed that I was born with the brain tumor,” she said.
As a result of the surgery, May said she has balance and coordination issues which means she either has to use crutches or a wheelchair to get about.
“Walking is kind of difficult, one of my bigger problems,” she said.
And she also has problems with thinking, processing and memory, May said.
May graduated from high school in Colorado, then took some classes at a community college in that state before she stopped when her mother became ill.
“I always wanted to go back to college, but I have not done so,” May said.
However, she is not able to work because of her permanent disability, she said.
But that has not stopped her from being an advocate.
While still living in Colorado, she did a great deal of legal work researching the possibility of filing a lawsuit against her doctor in Minnesota for failing to discover her brain tumor, according to May.
She found that she did not have the legal grounds to sue, so 15 years ago she worked to change state laws in Minnesota to help people with disabilities like herself, May said.
May did that while continuing to live in Colorado, she said.
But she traveled to Minnesota to give testimony to legislative committees that led to changing the eligibility guidelines to obtain community services for brain injured clients.
She moved back to Minnesota seven years ago and has lived at the Villas of Caroline, a Mary T Inc. facility in Coon Rapids.
“I have nice neighbors who are very helpful,” she said.
May 18, May completed the Partners in Policymaking® advocacy training program, which covered the history of disability rights and how to advocate for oneself assertively.
Alongside parents and individuals with disabilities, May developed “a new appreciation for what others have to deal with.”
May recommends the program to others, she said. “It is important to speak out for what you believe is right and what you think you deserve,” May said.
“I’m glad I took it.”
This eight-month leadership training program is designed for people with disabilities and parents of young children with developmental disabilities.
Now offered in almost every state and many foreign countries, Partners in Policymaking® was created by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities 26 years ago.
“Many graduates credit this program for helping them gain self-confidence and a greater understanding of disability law and policies, enabling them to be better advocates for their needs,” said Colleen Wieck, executive director of the Governor’s Council.
“Many have stepped up to become leaders in their own communities and take on greater roles in speaking for people with disabilities.”
The history of the disability and self-advocacy movements, inclusive education, supported living and having an influence on county, state and federal legislative processes are among the topics covered in the training, according to Wieck.
The two-day meetings during the program year are all held on weekends, making it easier for people to participate, Wieck said.
There is no cost to individuals selected for the program since it is covered by a federal grant to the Minnesota Governor’s Council.
All eight sessions took place at the Minneapolis Airport Marriott in Bloomington.
The class was limited to 40 participants, selected by a panel of Partners graduates and representatives of the Governor’s Council.
Presenters included nationally recognized leaders in the disabilities area, as well as local experts.
“This program is based on the belief that systems change is best brought about through the efforts of those most affected by them, and we seek to arm them with the tools needed to be successful in the public policy arena,” said Wieck.
Those selected to participate in the program are expected to attend all meetings and to complete homework assignments between the sessions.
For further information on the program go to www.mngts.org/partnersinpolicymaking or contact Carol Schoeneck at Government Training Services, 1-800-0569-6878, extension 205, or at 651-222-7409, extension 205. She may be emailed at [email protected].
The Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities introduced the Partners in Policymaking® program in 1987.
Since then, nearly 850 Minnesotans have completed the program and over 23,000 have participated in Partners programs offered worldwide.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]