July 23, 2024

Sounds of summer: State Fair launches sensory experience

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois State Fair will feature two initiatives aimed at increasing accessibility and inclusivity for those who suffer from sensory processing disorders.

“From the moment you arrive at the Illinois State Fair, you are greeted by the sounds of summer, including music, laughter and crowds of families,” said Rebecca Clark, Illinois State Fair manager.

“This year, we are taking steps to help those who feel overwhelmed by giving them a place to get support and make their fair a positive experience.

“This wouldn’t be possible without our tremendous local partners, Hope School and Springfield Clinic, who are skilled in caring for our community and have helped guide and support this meaningful initiative.”

Sunflower Hours

On Kids Day on Saturday, Aug. 12, the Illinois State Fair will host Sunflower Hours from 9 a.m. to noon. During this time, the fair will make adjustments to select programming to create a softer more calming environment for children and adults who suffer from sensory processing disorders.

A variety of free entertainment options will be available within this time frame to enable families with special needs to visit, explore and experience the Illinois State Fair.

All entertainment offered during the Sunflower Hours is included in the cost of admission to the fair.

Various stages will offer fun, family-friendly programming, the same entertainment that is offered all 11 days of the fair, but without the use of large sound systems and loud music.

The fair also will host a silent dance party from 10 a.m. to noon in the Reisch Pavilion to allow fairgoers an opportunity to enjoy their own dance party at their pace, at their speed and their preferred volume.

Hosted by Neuhoff Media’s 99.7 The Mix, this dance party will accommodate 50 fairgoers at a time. Wireless headphones will be sanitized between uses with new playlists starting every 20 minutes.

Additionally, many of the rides in the Carnival Midway and Adventure Village will be operating without the bright lights and loud sounds that can be overwhelming to some fairgoers.

Fairgoers utilizing the carnival rides during this time are asked to be accompanied by a caregiver or an adult.

“Carnival rides have long been a part of the fabric of our lives, and North American Midway Entertainment wants to ensure this experience can be shared by everyone for generations to come,” said Thomas Thebault of North American Midway Entertainment.

“NAME is honored to work alongside various organizations and community events to help provide family fun entertainment and memories that will last a lifetime in an inclusive and accessible environment.”

During Sunflower Hours, fair staff will be distributing stickers to those who identify as having sensory processing challenges. These stickers are used as visual cues to fair staff and volunteers that an individual or family may need additional assistance while visiting the fair.

While fairgoers are not required to self-identify, many find this communication tool extremely helpful while navigating new surroundings. Stickers can be picked up inside the Emmerson building and are only required for use of the carnival rides.

Sensory Station

Recognizing that the fair can be overstimulating and overwhelming for some individuals, the Illinois State Fair has created a designated area on the fairgrounds to aid individuals and families who need a moment to regroup.

The Sensory Station is in the Emmerson Building, in what was previously known as Kids Korner. Located just off Main Street and Brian Raney Avenue, this resource is conveniently located near the heart of the fairgrounds and will be a dedicated quiet zone.

This air-conditioned building will be open all 11 days of the fair from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and it will be staffed by trained volunteers who can help individuals identify resources within the Sensory Station to help them regroup and refocus.

The Sensory Station will be equipped with helpful tools such as weighted blankets, noise canceling headphones, calming pods and quiet activities to aid children and adults who need help processing the sights, smells, noises and crowds at the fair.

Thanks to a partnership with Hope School, a limited number of sensory bags, which include noise canceling headphones, fidget tools and sunglasses, will also be available to be checked-out for use on the fairgrounds.

“It is a privilege for Hope to be partnering with the Illinois Department of Agriculture in hosting Sunflower Hours at the 2023 Illinois State Fair,” said Amanda Brott, Hope’s executive director and COO.

“At Hope, our mission is to cultivate change to create the most inclusive environments. Having an opportunity to provide support to fairgoers is a way for Hope to ensure that everyone, including those with developmental or intellectual differences, are able to access and enjoy this year’s event.”