The South Carolina State Fair is launching a sensory-friendly morning on October 13. Photo by Holly Poag.
The South Carolina State Fair is introducing Sensory-Friendly Morning on Oct. 13 for guests with autism or sensory-processing disorders.
Kathy Allen, the fair’s director of human resources and marketing, received an email from an autistic man last year who requested more sensory-friendly additions to the fair.
“It just hit me that we really need to, you know, keep trying to do better every year,” Allen said.
Allen quickly began connecting with other fairs globally to learn more about sensory-friendly concepts. She also contacted the S.C. Department of Disabilities and Special Needs and ABLE South Carolina for guidelines.
The sensory-friendly morning will offer select rides, which will run with no music or lights, according to the fair’s website.
Other offerings will include performances with a quieter atmosphere, such as a mime show. And the animal displays, art and produce exhibits will be open for guests.
Other state fairs, such as the ones in Texas and Iowa, run sensory-friendly mornings for guests in need.
Allen realized that South Carolina’s change could be rewarding.
“This is just a starting point for us, and we hope to get better and better at it each year,” Allen said. “But we just wanted to start somewhere. (Feedback) has been positive.”
Shawn Keith, the executive director of the S.C. Autism Society, said his office is excited about opportunities for families looking for entertainment.
The fair has held a disabilities day for seniors before the coronavirus pandemic, Keith said. This year, he’s sure the special morning will bring plenty of people in.
People with sensory-processing disorders can be highly sensitive to stimuli, Keith said.
“The loud noise will be reduced, and the lighting will be reduced, so of course, that will help. So, kudos to them,” Keith said.
Allen wants visitors to understand that while staff will try to host a peaceful atmosphere, the fair can’t guarantee a completely quiet experience. She recommends that visitors check out the fair’s website page about sensory-friendly mornings and have a plan for their visit.