Nova Scotia

Halifax Pride parade adds low sensory zone and described viewing area

For the marquee event of the Halifax Pride festival, organizers are trying out some new accessibility measures to ensure everyone has a good time.

Organizers hope new accessibility areas will help people who are autistic or visually impaired

The Halifax Pride parade is in its 31st year. (CBC)

For the marquee event of the Halifax Pride festival, organizers are trying out some new accessibility measures to ensure everyone has a good time. 

During this year's Pride parade on Saturday, there will be a "described viewing area" for people with visual impairments and a "low sensory zone" for people who find the noise and crowds overwhelming. 

Thousands of people turn out each year for the Halifax Pride parade. (CBC)

In past years the festival has had a viewing platform in front of the Halifax Central Library for those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. That platform will still be present and the two new accessible areas will be placed in other spots along the route. 

The "low sensory zone" is inside the library, in the creative lab on the second floor. People with autism or who have anxiety about being in crowds will be able to watch the parade in a tranquil space behind the glass walls. 

"They'll still hear the music and they'll get to see everything, but it's going to be kind of muted out for them," said Beverley Nickerson, a member of the Halifax Pride accessibility committee.

Beverley Nickerson was inspired to suggest a low sensory zone by her teenage son. (CBC)

Nickerson suggested the space because of her 16-year-old son, who has autism. 

"We go every year. He loves parades, he loves the colours, the music and the dancing. But sometimes when we're down there, the crowds are a little overwhelming for him," she said. 

"During the parade, there's a lot of people moving, coming around. Some of the floats are a little bit loud with the music. He loves music, but some of them he just found it a little too much and the hands would go up and cover his ears." 

The described viewing area will be at the start of the parade route near the intersection of Upper Water and Cornwallis streets, where a master of ceremonies with a loudspeaker will describe each float as it passes. 

Mary Kathryn Arnold has a visual impairment and relies on her guide dog, Texas. She is on the accessibility committee and enjoys going to the Pride parade, but can only distinguish shapes and colours without details. 

Mary Kathryn Arnold is excited about the described viewing area at the 2018 Halifax Pride parade. (CBC)

"I only experience it by sitting on the hill with my wife and seeing colour and motion as it goes by and hearing party music. Without my wife telling me what's going on in the parade, it would be a very frustrating experience," she said. 

Arnold suggested the described viewing area and says she hopes many people come to experience it together. 

"Sighted people might think that we could just enjoy the music and the atmosphere, because Pride does have a wonderful atmosphere. And that's why almost all of us come out to it," she said. 

"But we want to do more than just enjoy the atmosphere or see the colours or, depending on how blind you are, just hear the music. We want to have the same accessibility to the event as everyone else." 

For those who can't make it to the event, CBC will livestream the entire parade starting at 1p.m. on Saturday, July 21, at cbc.ca/ns. It will also be live on the CBC Nova Scotia Facebook page.

Rouge Fatale and Steve Berry are excited to be your hosts for the 2018 Halifax Pride parade CBC livestream on Saturday, July 21. (Robert Short / CBC)

The parade leaves the DND dockyards heading to Upper Water Street, turns onto Barrington Street, up Spring Garden Road and then turns onto South Park Street to the Garrison Grounds for the community festival.

This is the route the Halifax Pride parade will follow Saturday. (Halifax Pride)

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