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Committee considers grants to increase sensory accessibility accommodation

Many sports facilities, art centers, museums and parks have instituted ways to help patrons with sensory issues - something as simple as a room with lower lighting.

Jillian Nelson, community resource and policy advocate with the Autism Society of Minnesota, cited the Minnesota Wild as an example.

"They don't have a separate space at their venue. Instead you go to customer service and say, 'I have some sensory needs.' They give you a menu and you pick out what items would meet your needs. They put them in a bag and you go back to your seat and get to enjoy the rest of your hockey game with the support you need."

She said the Guthrie Theater has some "relaxed performances" where attendee expectations are different, such as it’s OK to move about or make noise during the show.

But more can be done.

Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) offers an idea held over Friday by the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

HF139 would provide $250,000 in each of the next two fiscal years for "grants to state organizations, counties, cities, and private holders of public access space to fund building modifications to provide sensory accessibility of accommodations to increase accessible community involvement and access for individuals who have autism spectrum disorder or a related disability or other nonvisible health issue with sensory impacts."

Grantees would be permitted to create sensory friendly spaces, modify public use space to meet sensory friendly design standards, equip a facility with mobile tool kits to support sensory needs, or provide quiet zones or times of service. Disability training would need to be provided to staff to support the modifications made.

"They frequently do not need to be major changes to structures or anything along those lines," Freiberg said. "This grant is a small investment to set an example for our whole state of how sensory-friendly options can improve our communities and increase inclusion."

Sen. Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids) sponsors the companion, SF1348, which awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

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