Editor’s note: Barbara Metzger is a longtime disability rights and LGBTQ activist in Minnesota. This is the second of a two-part article. We have asked the Minnesota State Fair for a response and will also post that.
Before the fair began, I looked up on the Internet to find what information I could find about accessibility at the fair. I was assured by fair publicity that I would be better than ok, that I would have a great, fun time at the fair, even in my wheelchair. The website told me to stop at any information booth to pick up the fair’s guide to accessibility for this year’s fair. I stopped the very first day. The nice woman at the booth looked in her file box and found the file for those guides was empty. She apologized and directed me to the Guest Services office for a copy.
I arrived at Guest Services to find there was no electric door opener, leading into a very small reception space. Fairgoers who were strangers to me helped me get inside where I was told they hadn’t printed those guides this year and waved goodbye at as I struggled to get back out the door.
Being helped by strangers became a common theme at the fair. It appears to me that many of us have not taught our children Minnesota Nice, but some of us have done a great job with that, and most adults and elders still make it a common practice. A young child ran forward from her parents’ side when she saw me drop something to pick it up for me and offer a smile and greeting as she did so.
A woman, who might have been a Vixen (one of our women professional football team members) climbed over me (after politely asking if she could) to get behind me when I was stuck in the doorway of a bathroom stall. I had knocked the doorframe slightly askew and knocked the control panel of my chair away and needed to straighten it out to get the power to turn on again. She lifted my 400-pound chair with my 230-pound body in it to straighten it out, so I could fix the control panel and be on my way. A police officer unbuckled the toe strap on my sandal when my foot was swollen and hurting, and I couldn’t reach my feet myself. I am extremely grateful for each and every kindness I received from all of the strangers who helped me. But I should not be forced to rely upon help from strangers to navigate the fairgrounds either as a fairgoer, a volunteer or as an employee.
During my 34 years as a hardworking Minnesota taxpayer, I might have grumbled as I paid my taxes. But I didn’t really object to paying taxes as a functional member of the workforce because I believed I was helping people. I believed paved streets, good sidewalks and lighting, the world’s best medical care and helping people who really needed it were good things that made all of our lives and our very society better.
I believe if all Minnesota taxpayers were required to live in a wheelchair for one week there would be a tax rebellion here. They would come to understand how horrible, painful and dangerous life with disabilities is when accessibility items are broken or absent.
That goes for privately supported properties too. I know and appreciate that the fair is privately funded and receives no state funding. But the fair as a physical entity must follow state and federal laws on access for people with disabilities.
The Minnesota State Fair is the biggest culprit I have encountered in my eight years in a wheelchair. We must all expect and demand better. Perfect isn’t required. Just do better.