Ottawa

Fair's special needs day means fun for everyone

For the sixth year, the Arnprior Fair will set aside a morning in August when people with special needs and their families can come have fun in a setting that won't overload their senses, and it's all free.

For 2 hours, Arnprior Fair will dim lights, lower volumes for those with sensory issues

At the Arnprior Fair's special needs day, visitors get to skip the usual noise and crowds. (Sue Clark)

As Sue Clark watched a midway worker carefully remove one of the ponies from the merry-go-round to make room for a girl in a wheelchair last summer, she knew her hard work had finally paid off.

"That was the most precious moment I ever saw," said Clark, who has helped organize a special needs day at the Arnprior Fair for the last six years.

"She just never was capable [of enjoying the ride] because of her wheelchair ... and it was just simply amazing," Clark said. "She wanted to go around a second time."

Registration for this year's special needs day just opened, and Clark said her inbox is already flooded with emails from families hoping to attend. It's free of charge and open to all ages. It takes place Aug. 9 from 10 a.m. to noon. 

For those two hours, there will be no flashing lights or loud music to overload the senses, and there will be more midway staff on hand to help anyone who needs assistance.

Midway staff can alter some rides, including the merry-go-round, to make them wheelchair-accessible. (Sue Clark)

Clark got the idea from her mother, who helped start a similar day at the former Gloucester Fair nearly 20 years ago. 

"I think it's important that the community fairs do this for their communities," Clark said. "Hopefully more fairs will jump on board and people won't have to travel so far to go to a special needs day."

Families thankful

Sierra Gaspar has taken her son to the special needs day at the Arnprior Fair for the past three years, and said she can't express how thankful she is.

Gavin Ratnakaran enjoys his favourite ride during the Arnprior Fair's special needs day in 2018. (Sierra Gaspar)

Her son, Gavin, is almost six and was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was two.

Gaspar said her family looks forward to the fair each year because it's a place where they can have fun without worrying about getting what she calls "the look" because of their son's behaviour.

"You will see the joy of the parents and the caregivers. They are quite relaxed — you know, the shoulders are not tense and they know that they are not going to be judged," Gaspar said.

Samantha Nadeau, who works as a support worker in Arnprior, brings adults with developmental disabilities to the fair.

"A lot of them don't have funds for extra stuff, so the fact that they can go to the fair and enjoy the fair for free is a wonderful idea," Nadeau said.

Most of the people she works with are non-verbal, but Nadeau said she can tell they're having fun by the way their eyes light up.

"Sometimes at home, they might not be interested in a lot of things that's going on, but once we're at the fair ... they're very alert," she said.

Registration for the special needs day ends Aug. 1. Space is limited to 400 including parents and guardians.

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