Editor's Column - April 2019

It’s finally starting to warm up and it feels good. Although the snow is beautiful for the first couple of months, I think we’re all fine with seeing it disappear now.

A highlight of the last couple weeks was that I was able to tour the new soccer stadium in St. Paul. Allianz Field, in the Midway district, is a beautiful facility. There are, however, lots of accessibility issues that need to be corrected. As I moved from my van to the front door I noted that there are only two curb cuts in the front of the building near the main entry. The two curb cuts were only about six feet wide. I know that when I leave the building I’m going to make sure I’m not in a crowd. As users of wheels all know, driving off a curb is not a fun trip, and can be dangerous. As I went in through the gate I could see the field, which is plush real grass. The accessible seating right there is outstanding, as you are right on the level of the field, or the pitch, as they call it in soccer. There were other things that I found questionable. Many of the tables in the lounge area were bar height. A lowered section was available at the end of the bar but you’d have to get through the whole crowd of people before you could sit with your friends at the bar—or rather, with your friend, as there is only room for two people.

I went over to the elevator, where there was a garbage can located right in front of the call buttons, so I couldn’t reach it. Once I got an able-bodied person to push the buttons it was a very nice large elevator. Getting out of the elevator onto a nice tile floor on the second of the three levels made for smooth rolling until I hit the giant area rug that had a tiny lip. It didn’t present any particular trouble for my power wheelchair, but I did notice others in push chairs having trouble with their front small casters wheels. I imagine walkers, canes, crutches and other devices might have similar trouble. I was relieved that my “easy lock” bolt at the bottom of my chair did not catch on the rug and roll it up underneath me. There are several nice concession stands with chair-height countertops. On the second level there is a lot of box seating as well, most of them already marked with sponsor signs. There are many wheelchair/accessible seats on this “concourse” level.

The group I toured with went down to the brew hub where there were no less than 15 different kinds of beer available and many rows of picnic benches, many of them with open spaces on the end for wheelchair seating. In my chair, my knees did not fit underneath the table, which isn’t unusual. There’s hardly ever a table that I can fit under. But the more we looked around in this blue-collar beer joint I noticed that it had garage doors open to the outside. That seemed very cool; so with the garage doors open, the whole place will feel like you are outside. But after a closer look for accessibility outside by some of my peers, we found there were no wheelchair-height vending stalls outside to buy yourself a brew. So in order for someone in a wheelchair to get a drink they would have to come in through the crowd to get their barley pop.

The real kicker was that there are only four electric power doors for entrance and exit in the whole building. Every bathroom door has a pull opening, and they must pull with less than five pounds of resistance to be within code. I think the maintenance crew may have to go check every door before every event. Overall, it’s exciting to have this new sports venue in town, and I’m looking forward to watching more soccer and learning about it. I expect the Allianz folks to keep making adjustments to resolve the accessibility issues we found.

Further down University Avenue, at the capitol, the situation is a little more disappointing. I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I should this session, watching and getting involved in committee meetings. It just seems like few issues are getting traction and the things that are, tend to look more like Band-Aid fixes instead of addressing systemic causes. There are several good things happening for driverless cars. There are several good things happening for the opiate crisis. But there is very little happening for our workforce crisis. Keep watching HF1225 / SF968 and HF1298 / SF2135, and contact your legislators.