Editor’s note: Barbara Metzger is a longtime disability rights and LGBTQ activist in Minnesota. This is the first of a two-part article. We have asked the Minnesota State Fair for a response and will also post that.
The list of earthquakes that have happened in Minnesota since 1850 is very short. Only one occurred in the metro area and that was in Cottage Grove in 1981, 42 years ago. But to look at sidewalks and road pavement at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair you would think St. Paul/Falcon Heights experienced a major quake within the last year. A closer look shows grass and weeds growing out of some cracks that stretch completely across intersections. Clearly, those fissures have been there a long while.
Now, your average fairgoer, strolling around the grounds in sturdy walking shoes, might not even see these holes and deep crevasses. For the disabled community those fissures might be enough to keep them from going to all the attractions they would like to see or keep them from coming back next year at all. For some of us each jarring bump causes pain, or each jarring bump causes anxiety, anxiety that one’s wheelchair might be damaged.
Allow me to explain. My power wheelchair cost $22,000, more than some cars. I have had six different cancers. Cancer number three required a yearlong chemotherapy and recovery period during which the government forced me to quit working and go on disability. Otherwise they would not help me pay the $25,000 per week drug costs for my treatment.
I am very grateful to the taxpaying citizens of my country for helping me survive. I am grateful for all the services those same taxpayers provide that make having a life after survival possible, including my power wheelchair, Metro Mobility for transportation and the handicapped adapted bathroom in my condo. Without those things I would be breathing, but I would have no life, no friends, no church family to belong to. My wheelchair is much, much more than a convenience.
Because of the incredible jump in costs of medical care in recent decades, Medicare does not take requests for new power wheelchairs lightly. They investigate every single request thoroughly even for replacement of an existing chair. It can take six months to one year to actually receive a replacement for a broken chair. It can take up to six to eight months to repair a broken chair. Medicare decides whether to repair or replace it and they only provide manual chairs as backup. Thus, a broken axle from falling in a deep hole at the fair could steal my mobility for the next year.
Wheelchair users encounter challenges every day. We come to expect “difficult,” but we don’t expect impossible or dangerous situations at major attractions or sports and entertainment venues. The Twins’ Target Field is the gold standard for wheelchair accessibility in Minnesota. Having been there often, I expected the Minnesota State Fair, our Great Minnesota Get Together, to be equal to or better than Target Field. But I was wrong and sorely disappointed.
I worked at Hamline Church Dinning Hall most of the days of the 2023 Minnesota State Fair. My experience included getting stuck in restrooms that were marked as accessible with the universal wheelchair symbol telling me I would be ok there. It included getting stuck, spinning my wheels against the edge of the sidewalk where a hole in the ground grabbed one wheel. It included almost flying off a curb that should have been painted yellow. The old yellow paint was worn and faded, and I couldn’t see where the edge of the sidewalk was. An eight-inch drop to the asphalt roadway waited for me. It included waiting at the Metro Mobility bus stop for four hours past my pickup time because the Como bus Loop (Gate 9) was in total chaos with no understandable system or control for buses, hotel shuttles, news station shuttles, performers’ shuttles, rideshare service cars with disabled passengers, and parents dropping their teenagers off all vying for space.
One poor man with Parkinson’s disease and difficulty walking waited six hours for his ride. Metro Mobility drivers could not get to the pickup spot and were leaving people behind marked as “no shows” simply because they couldn’t find each other in the five minutes drivers are allowed to wait for their designated rider. It included countless smaller incidents that were irritating and annoying, but not dangerous.
(Part two will appear later this week.)