Nova Scotia

Quiet Parade will be an 'extravagant celebration,' but without the sensory overload

Quiet Parade, set for Oct. 15 in Halifax, won't include things like loud noises, flashing lights, scents and smoke. It will be low stimulation, making it easier for neurodivergent or disabled people to enjoy.

Parade scheduled for Oct. 15 in Halifax will be aimed at neurodivergent or disabled people

Aislinn Thomas is shown working on her project Photophagia, in which the book The Secret Life of Plants is described by gardeners, and viewers listen in darkness. (Sylvia Pond courtesy of Ontario Culture Days)

Aislinn Thomas is taking a classic celebration and shaking it up.

She's removing things like bright lights, loud noises, fragrances and smoke to create a parade that will be easier for neurodivergent people, such as those with autism, or disabled people to enjoy.

Quiet Parade will hit the streets of Halifax on Oct. 15. It's going to be what Thomas calls "a vibrant, extravagant celebration," but one with low stimulation.

Thomas is a disabled and chronically ill artist who lives in Cape Breton. She often does work surrounding accessibility, and she said the idea for Quiet Parade comes from her own experience.

"[The idea] really comes from a selfish desire for there to be a parade that I can attend. I just love parades and I miss them, I haven't really been able to attend a parade for almost eight years now," Thomas said. 

"But it's not entirely selfish because I know that others experience similar barriers to taking part in many, if not ... all gatherings and celebrations."

Shaped by the community

Thomas is making her dream a reality in collaboration with the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Halifax and funding partners like the Canada Council for the Arts. 

She wants the parade to be shaped by the ideas and needs of the community, and as such, she doesn't know exactly what it will look like.

She and her partners are working on the precise route and location, but she hopes it will snake through the streets of the city in all its quiet glory, just like a classic parade would.

Much of Thomas's work focuses on accessibility. Shown is As I am and As I Become, a project in which Thomas and partners at Teatro Visión created visual descriptions for artworks in galleries. (San José Museum of Art)

Anyone can submit their idea for a float or performance, or even piece of art. The deadline for proposals is June 3, and Thomas said there are "no limitations."

"We invite people to interpret the term float broadly and to take seriously their own access needs, whatever that looks like," she said. "We really welcome ideas that people might not have all the nuts and bolts figured out yet because we can help with the logistics."

Thomas said traditional parades can have a severe impact on her. She said she avoids medical labels, but she prefers to describe herself as "thriving in low-stimulation environments." 

"Parades tend to have a lot going on," she said. "I'm quick to experience sensory overload and that can translate into migraines, disorientation, difficulty processing information ... or difficulty speaking."

She wants the parade to be a positive experience for everyone involved, and foster a sense of community. 

"It's also about cultivating joy," she said. "There's a lot of pain and oppression and suffering in our communities, especially in this ongoing pandemic ... And joy is really important to our surviving and thriving."

A still from a video Thomas made in Cape Breton last year for the Art Gallery of Ontario's Tangled Art Talks series. (Submitted by Aislinn Thomas)

Thomas said the sensory-friendly nature of the event will be a group effort. 

"So whereas we might normally clap and cheer, we can think about how we could express enthusiasm ... in ways that might not startle or cause like pain for someone who might be standing nearby."

But she said though the Quiet Parade focuses on the needs of people who often can't experience traditional celebrations, everyone is welcome to join in. 

"It's not an exclusive event in any way," she said. "I see something like this parade as an opportunity for connection, for care."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola Seguin is a TV, radio, and online journalist with CBC Nova Scotia, based in Kjipuktuk (Halifax). If you have a story idea, email her at nicola.seguin@cbc.ca or find her on twitter @nicseg95.

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