Describer: The Minnesota Council on Disability logo appears.
Nikki Villavicencio: Hello, my name is Nikki Villavicencio, Chair of the Minnesota Council on Disability. I am a Filipinx woman, and I identify as a person with a disability, and I’m wearing a floral shirt today.
Also on the screen is the MCD logo.
I’m here today to read an open letter to the Minnesota State Fair and local governments from the council, its members, and staff, dated August 8th, 2021.
Minnesota Council on Disability. 1600 University Avenue West, Suite Eight, St. Paul, Minnesota 55104.
The Minnesota Council on Disability, MCD, has made the difficult decision not to attend the 2021 State Fair.
Throughout the summer, we looked to government leadership and State Fair leadership to create a safe and welcoming environment for Minnesotans with disabilities and aging Minnesotans. Unfortunately, our leaders have not stepped up to require masks, vaccines, or crowd limits at the State Fair. Our state has not reached a level of vaccinations that creates herd immunity. We are currently experiencing another COVID-19 wave due to the Delta variant, including outbreaks at many other fairs around the state. Minnesota is dangerously close to crossing the 5.0% positivity rate, which the CDC would label as substantial spread.
In their desire to return to normal, Minnesotans have resisted masking. Some have resisted vaccinations despite the disproportionate effect that COVID-19 has on Minnesotans with disabilities and aging Minnesotans. By not creating a safe place for all Minnesotans to gather, MCD’s presence at the State Fair this year would reinforce the message to society that the lives of people with disabilities are less important. But others have attempted to frame this issue as freedom from vaccines or masks, rather than as a right for Minnesotans with disabilities to be healthy and alive.
MCD cannot endorse the decision to make masking optional at the State Fair. We cannot support the refusal to make hard decisions that will upset some but likely save many. People with disabilities are rarely at the front of social conversations about right and wrong, equality and rights. This lack of action continues the trend of deprioritizing marginalized communities. These policies or lack of policies appear to be overlooking Minnesotans with disabilities and other marginalized communities, making people’s health a secondary priority. This lack of leadership and policies does not represent our state’s diverse racial, ethnic, aging, or disability communities, all of which have higher risks from COVID-19.
We believe that this letter can serve as a wake-up call to our leaders across government and the leadership of the State Fair, that it is never too late to do the right thing, and that society can and must do better. We need to implement stronger vaccines, masking, and crowd requirements at the State Fair.
The implicit message that Minnesotans with disabilities are asked not to attend is an unacceptable alternative.
Nikki Villavicencio, Chair, Ramsey County
Trent Dilks, Vice Chair, Stearns County
Sadio Abdirashid, Hennepin County
Dawn Bly, Polk County
Andrew Christensen, Rice County
Christy Caez Claudio, Hennepin County
John Fechter, Chisago County
Jennifer Foley, Stearns County
David Johnson, Beltrami County
Hope Johnson, Waseca County
Leigh Lake, Otter Tail County
Judith Moe, Hennepin County
Quinn Nystrom, Crow Wing County
Myrna Peterson, Itasca County
Ted Stamp, Lyon County
David Dively, Executive Director
Describer: The Minnesota Council on Disability logo appears.
David Dively: Hi, my name is David Dively, and I’m the Executive Director of the Minnesota Council on Disability. I’m a white male wearing a light blue shirt, and I have a disability.
First, I want to take a moment to recognize that not everyone, particularly those with disabilities, can wear a mask or can receive the vaccine at this time. It is not our intention to exclude any of those people, and it is their right as a protected class to not wear a mask or receive the vaccine if it affects their disability.
I also want to take a moment to recognize the response that we’ve received from the community about this letter. This letter was a very vocal opportunity for the Council on Disability to advocate for a safer and healthier Minnesota, and the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, commending this letter, because it is saying something that people with disabilities have been trying to say for a long time, which is that they are not in the forefront of our decision making, they’re not a part of our leadership’s decisions, and that their voices, especially during the COVID pandemic, have not been heard.
Society wants us to think about ourselves and independence. But what we really know is true is that we’re all dependent on each other, and that interdependence is far more important. When we wear a mask, even if we have a vaccine, indoors or even outdoors, we’re being considerate of others, and ensuring that others who may have a disability, an autoimmune disease, or other medical condition can still participate in society and their communities.
We also want to recognize that the State Fair organization received our email and responded to us in letting us know that they understand that we won’t be there this year, and they look forward to having conversations to continue our relationship for future State Fair participation. And we will return to the fair when we feel that it is safe and appropriate for everyone.
Finally, just as a reminder, disability rights are human rights, and our agency’s responsibility is to advocate for people with disabilities to state government, to the legislature, to the judiciary, to the public, and to any systemic barrier that we see. And we see this as an opportunity, with this year’s State Fair, to make sure that people with disabilities’ experiences and rights to participate in society are fair and equitable for everyone.
Describer: Minnesota Council on Disability logo. You may contact David Dively at 651-361-7801 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.