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A Fair For All: Accessibility On The Fairgrounds

By Stephen Swanson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- After travelling a single block at the Minnesota State Fair, it's clear "The Great Minnesota Get-Together" is a gathering meant for all.

Brienna Schuette, the Minnesota State Fair's marketing and communication director, says they make changes every year to insure increased accessibility.

"[There are] curb cuts all around the fairgrounds, and plenty of accessible restrooms as well," Schuette said. "Every time, we're making improvements to streets and sidewalks and boulevards here on the grounds."

Schuette says there are four strategic locations around the fairgrounds where people can rent wheelchairs, scooters, strollers and wagons – all four of which are operated by HomeTown Mobility.

"You can reserve a scooter or wheelchair online on our website 24 hours in advance of your arrival at the fair," she said.

There are also charging stations at the Care and Assistance Center near the West End Market, and on the south side of the Grandstand building.

The placement of the new Transit Hub, located near the new West End Market, has cut into the number of accessible parking spaces in nearby lots. But Schuette says the number of accessible spaces has doubled near Como Avenue.

"We have about 600 accessible parking spaces on the fairgrounds proper," she said. "Now there's more accessible parking south of Como, so it kind of flip-flopped."

Schuette says they've also added a second Metro Mobility drop-off point this year on the north end of the fairground. The other location is still at the Como Loop Gate.

The fair also provides assistive listening devices free of charge for Grandstand concerts, and materials in braille, which are available at the Visitors Plaza and at information booths.

There are also interpreters of ASL, or American Sign Language, available for fairgoers who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Rebecca Rick Interprets At The State Fair
(credit: CBS)

"You can call us, call our main line and we can set you up with an ASL interpreter," Schuette said.

Rebecca Rick is a second-generation interpreter, and has been working at the Minnesota State Fair for years. She says it's a labor of love, especially since she's a die-hard fairgoer herself.

"I love the fair, I'm a fair person. My family gave up all of their old traditions and solely took on the State Fair," Rick said. "We have our traditions. I have one brother that always gets lost at the fair every year."

Rick says there are two to three interpreters daily on the fairgrounds, and there are several more on-call if needed.

"I love being able to really bring other people the fun excitement of what the fair is," she said. "We're here every day from 9 o' clock in the morning til 3 o'clock, and people can request an interpreter from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily to go and have accessibility to anything here at the fair."

She says this year she has interpreted pet surgeries, as well as best-of-breed and agility shows at the Pet Center. Last year, she interpreted a town hall meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton.

"I'm hoping someday, somebody requests an interpreter down for the Giant Sing Along, big-group karaoke," she said, which is located near the Pet Center in the northeast part of the fairgrounds.

Rick says there are two shows that are interpreted daily at the fair.

Rebecca Rick Interprets At The State Fair
(credit: CBS)

"We usually have at least one family at every show that we have," she said.

Rick says American Sign Language interpreting is not as simple as providing a word-for-word translation of English. In fact, that's not how ASL works at all.

"There's so much more to it, and not only in just the grammatical structure … but just a stage presence. For both of these shows, you're interacting with not only a performer, but also with the audience," Rick said. "And so if you are just standing up there and only interpreting the words, but not interpreting the audience reactions, not interpreting the music and the beat of it, not reacting to when the audience starts clapping – then you've just disrespected the performer, and you've created attention that wouldn't have been present if you weren't there."

There are interpreters daily at the Timberworks Lumberjack Show at the Lumberjack Arena at noon, and at comedic entertainer Sean Emery's 12:30 p.m. show at the Baldwin Park Family Fair Stage.

Click here for the Minnesota State Fair's 2014 Accessibility Guide.

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