FAIRBANKS — When the Tanana Valley State Fair opens this fall, visitors will no longer be greeted by cracked sidewalks, dicey walks through the busy parking lots or a midway in a bumpy field.
The fair is busy paving and repaving many of the walkways at the fairgrounds, thanks in part to the work of local disability advocates.
Access Alaska and disability advocacy group Wall Busters teamed up with the Tanana Valley State Fair in 2009 to begin to make the fairgrounds accessible to the disabled.
The Wall Busters, many of whom live with a disability, surveyed the fairgrounds in 2010 and produced a lengthy report on ways to make the fair more accessible. That included smoothed walkways, better bathrooms and easier access to vendor booths and the barn areas.
“One of the biggest problems for the fair is the uneven asphalt,” said Art Delaune, a services supervisor at Access Alaska. “Lots of things make it hard, especially for people with mobility issues to access the fair. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that those who actually walk the walk — or roll the roll — are involved because there are so many things as a person without disabilities you would never notice.”
The Wall Busters, Access Alaska and the fair took the report to the Legislature, which in 2012 awarded $750,000 to begin making the fairgrounds Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant.
In addition to repaving walkways, fair manager Jill Falldin said this summer’s work will include paved handicap-accessible parking spaces at each gate and a paved area by the horse arena.
Permafrost in the midway area prevented it from getting asphalt, but Falldin said it will get some sort of new surfacing before the fair starts on Aug. 2.
Falldin said she’s excited to make the fair more friendly to those with disabilities and said everyone will enjoy the new walkways. She complimented the Wall Busters for going above and beyond to ensure the fair and its vendors can accommodate anyone with a disability.
“They’ve been absolutely amazing to work with,” she said. “They have been so open and accommodating and have been going up to vendors themselves to become ADA-compliant at the vendor booths.”
In addition to a more accessible fairgrounds, the fair, Access Alaska and the Wall Busters will team up to host a number of events during the fair to promote awareness and understanding of disabilities.
“With all the nice new fairgrounds we’re going to try to take advantage to teach people about disabilities,” Delaune said. “We’ll have wheelchair basketball, a scavenger hunt and other activities.”
The Legislature has already funded a second phase of upgrades for the fairground, which includes ADA-compliant bathrooms to be installed in time for next year’s fair.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544.