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2010 STAR Awards recognize Champions of Assistive Technology

Champions of Assistive Technology

January 21, 2010

Up to the MN-IT May 2010

Champions of Assistive Technology Recognized

Assistive Technology is all about finding ways to help people with disabilities acquire and use high tech innovations. For people with limited abilities, tasks such as brushing teeth or using websites can be huge barriers to their independence.

Each year, Minnesota's STAR Program recognizes individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions toward improving the lives of persons with disabilities. In April, STAR (an acronym for System of Technology to Achieve Results) honored 14 'champions,' including a team of legislators: House Representative Torrey Westrom, House Representative Phyllis Kahn, House Representative Bill Hilty, Senator Ann Rest and Senator Ellen Anderson.

This group led efforts to pass legislation that requires Minnesota to adopt accessibility standards that incorporate Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

The legislation, passed during the 2009 session, will help improve the accessibility of the State of Minnesota's websites for people with disabilities. The team that earned the STAR award worked to fund the bill with a $1 million fiscal note. Enforcement legislation passed in 2010 will include a fee for non-compliance. OET will play a significant role in the setting of these standards.

"We are very excited that Minnesota is making this major commitment to accessibility," said Jo Erbes, STAR Program manager. "These legislators understand that electronic and information technology is the driving force moving us through the 21st Century. They also realized that Minnesota needed accessibility standards so that no Minnesotan would be denied access to electronic and information technology as a citizen or as a state employee. It is because of their hard work, effort and collaboration that this legislation passed and was signed into law."

Erbes noted that Westrom, who is visually impaired, testified about his personal experiences as a legislator and attorney and the barriers he faced because of the lack of accessibility standards. Senator Rest and Representative Hilty were the key authors of the bill.

These legislators were nominated for the STAR Advocacy Award for Excellence in Assistive Technology by Mary Hartnett, Executive Director of the Commission for Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing. The award winners accepted their accolades during an April 13 ceremony in the State Capitol Rotunda.

Other recipients included Gae Skager, who has ALS and uses a communication device equipped with infrared technology to educate and train others, and 95-year-old Jerry Hagen, who has invented or modified more than 50 devices that are improving the lives of persons with disabilities. Among his contributions are a one-handed weaving loom, an electric pop-can crusher and a one-shot toothpaste dispenser. Gae received an award for excellence as a consumer and Jerry received a lifetime achievement award for his contributions.

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Pictured: Tom Anderson, Chair of the MN Commission Serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (MCDHH), with STAR award winners Rep. Torrey Westrom, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Rep. Bill Hilty, and Sen. Ann Rest. Also pictured: Mary Hartnett, Executive Director of MCDHH, who, with Tom Anderson, nominated the group for their roles in the successful passage of the State's new Accessible Technology law, and Sheila Reger, Commissioner of the Dept. of Administration, who bestowed the awards. Not pictured: award-winner Sen. Ellen Anderson.

Photo Courtesy of MN House Photographer Andrew VonBank