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State Fair Fun for All

People enter the state fair grounds in Minnesota

Food on a stick, the crowds, and the farm animals are all back this year at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s often called the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” and the state fair is committed to making sure everyone can have fun at the gathering. The State Fair is underway from Aug. 25 thru Sept. 5, 2022.

Gillette Children’s supervisor of therapeutic recreation and music therapy, Tammy Larson, says the State Fair is an accessible place to take all family members and she shares tips to make your visit successful.

What is the main thing families should do to ensure a fun day for all at the Minnesota State Fair?

I would say the biggest thing is to have a plan. You should spend some time anticipating what could go wrong and prepare. Self-mental preparation makes it easier to do a visit. For example, take some time to see where changing stations are so you’re not scrambling if you have a child that needs to be changed. You should bring special snacks so kids are not super hungry because a hungry kid might lead to meltdowns. Also, you should look at the weather forecast and plan for weather conditions like heat and rain.

The State Fair has charging stations for electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters. You can look at a map on the State Fair website and see where those charging stations are ahead of time so you can recharge your transportation and get to see more of the fair.

Gillette Children’s is committed to helping all children have access to experiences. In your opinion, as a therapeutic recreation professional, do you think the Minnesota State Fair is an accessible place for families?

Yes. I think the Fair goes above and beyond to make the fair accessible to all. There is good parking for people who use wheelchairs and, on the fairground, and there are curb cutouts and ramps to help people get around. I think structurally the fair organization has done what they need to do. It’s a huge public event and you need to be flexible. Some families may find some difficulties and things are not perfect. But if you go into the Fair with the right attitude and try to be flexible things should go well. I believe the Fair wants people to create good memories and they try to help that happen.

You’ve worked at Gillette Children’s for about 30 years. Talk about the changes and accessibility improvements you’ve seen over the past three decades.

Back in the 1980s I worked for Courage Kenny, a rehabilitation institute in Minneapolis. As part of my job, I took people who used wheelchairs to the State Fair and things were different back then. It was not as easy for people using a wheelchair to get around the Fair.

I can recall instances years ago where I was out with people who use wheelchairs and none of the bathrooms in bars and restaurants were accessible. This is not the case today. Minnesota is a leader in working to improve accessibility. I know some people in the state have done phenomenal work in this area.

Please share some final tips for a fun day at the Fair.

I would remind people that they don’t have to do EVERYTHING at the Fair. You should take your time and also take breaks.  Try to eliminate expectations and pressure.

If you’re going as a family, it might be a good idea to bring a personal care assistant with you. That way you’ll have another adult on hand to help with your child. It’s a good option to use the personal care assistant (PCA) hours to help you and your family when you’re attending events that might be overwhelming for a child.

There are wheelchairs and electric mobility scooters for rent at the Fair. You need to reserve those in advance. There are also wheelchair accessible “Park and Rides” with free wheelchair-accessible bus service. You should look online to find more information.

Another thing to know is the State Fair has American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to assist. It’s probably a good idea to arrange for that service ahead of time.

If you’re looking for a quiet space to regroup, the Fraser Sensory Building is available for those who might find the sights, sounds, smells and crowds of the Fair to be a bit overwhelming. Fraser is a Minnesota nonprofit that has programs to help people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities. Fraser-trained volunteers will be available to assist with tools and techniques, such as weighted blankets, calming music, and fidget toys.

My final piece of advice is “don’t wing it.” Have a plan, prepare and be flexible. You’re making good memories at the Fair and participating in a Minnesota tradition. Have fun!

Here is a link to the Minnesota State Fair Accessibility Guide.