When my family moved to Willmar in 2008, we attempted to visit the Kandiyohi County Fair, accompanied by my brother Michael, who uses a wheelchair fulltime. Many of have seen Michael, me and his service dog, Joni, around town.
Getting around the fairgrounds was so difficult and dangerous for us, we didn’t last 20 minutes before we packed up and went home. As Mike wasn’t particularly upset about missing the fair, I let the issue pass. Not like me at all. I’m a passionate disability activist; but we were new to town and I didn’t want to make waves. However, I knew that many people with disabilities were being denied.
If the Minnesota State Fair, perhaps the largest in the U.S., can produce an event that is wheelchair-accessible, so can Kandiyohi County. There is no outstate community with a more diverse population than Willmar’s. The city ranks among the top five percent of Minnesota cities and towns in terms of the size of its population with disabilities. Plus, its overall population is rapidly aging.
The American with Disabilities Act is over 20 years old. It’s time to shine a light on the problem with the fair’s location, as well as disability access throughout our city. This situation is a lawsuit and an ADA complaint waiting to happen. The cost of making the fairgrounds accessible is prohibitive. Therefore, it’s time to come up with a new location, and the time to start is right now.
I realize many in the mainstream community will bristle at this demand, and that’s what it is, a demand. The activists reading this know full well that we don’t make many friends in the mainstream in this line of endeavor; that’s just the way it is. But this is a moral imperative as well as a legal one.
You’ll all be hearing more about this in near future.