Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Episode #51: The NC State Fair Access ABILITY Day – Inclusion for Special Needs Families

Inclusion for Special Needs Families at the NC State Fair!
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Inclusion for Special Needs Families at the NC State Fair!

Show Notes:

Join us on a journey to the heart of the North Carolina State Fair where we witnessed something truly special. In this episode of Water Prairie Chronicles, we explore Access ABILITY Day, an event that’s all about creating a sensory-friendly event that provided inclusion for special needs families. Hear from families who took part in the event and learn about the Chill Out Zone, a special area set up to help families with sensory needs find a quiet space to relax and recharge. If you’re passionate about creating a more inclusive world, this episode is for you.

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Episode #51: The NC State Fair Access ABILITY Day

Inclusion for Special Needs Families

(Recorded October 16, 2022
A dark teal background with the image of a chair lift and ferris wheel against a dark sky and the NC State Fair logo are to the left of the image with the words "Access ABILITY Day update NC State Fair" below the image. To the right of the graphic are the words, "Episode #51, Inclusion for Special Needs Families" and the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast logo is in the bottom right corner in a circle logo with a black "W" in the center.

Episode 51: Inclusion for Special Needs Families at the NC State Fair

Welcome to the Water Prairie Chronicles, the podcast that’s all about supporting and empowering parents of special needs children. Today’s episode is going to take you on a journey to the heart of the North Carolina State Fair, where we witness something truly special. Whether you’re a parent of a special needs child, or simply someone who’s passionate about creating a more inclusive world, this episode is for you.

Last October, we had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Overton from the North Carolina State Fair, who gave us an inside look into their Access ABILITY Day, an event that’s all about creating a sensory-friendly and inclusive experience for visitors with special needs.

I was intrigued by their mission to create a fully and. Inclusive experience and decided to go see it in person. The event was held on a Sunday morning when the traffic to the fair is typically not as busy. We entered through the same gate those needing handicapped parking would use, and we easily found our way to the area Sponsored by bandwidth, which was specially designed to cater to children with sensory needs bandwidth.

Volunteers were on hand to help kids enjoy sensory-friendly activities like pumpkin decorating and making shaker water bottles. My goal was to talk with some of the families visiting the fair specifically for the Accessibility Day event, and to see what their reaction. We had the pleasure of meeting Madeline and her mother Kate as they were making a sensory bottle.

A photo of a teenage girl with long light brown hair that is straight. The girl is smiling and holding a small black microphone. She is sitting at a black table with art materials scattered on the table. Beside her is her mother, a woman who is smiling and has dark brown hair. They are talking about inclusion for special needs families in an interview.
Kate and Madeline spoke with Tonya about their experience at the fair and gave some suggestions for future inclusion for special needs families of visually impaired children.

What surprised us the most was that Madeline was already one of our listeners, having discovered our podcast through one of her teachers. And as it turned out, Madeline and my daughter Emily have a shared passion for gaming.

Madeline: Wait, I know you, I’ve seen your podcast.

So this is The Water Prairie Chronicles.

Madeline: That’s amazing.

Tell me your name again.

Madeline: Uh, my name is Madeline.

Madeline. And.

Kate: Uh, I’m Kate.

Kate. Okay. So Madeline and Kate and, um, they’re here at the Access ABILITY Day Fair. And there’s a sensory exhibit they’re doing. And what are these sensory bottles that you’re making?

Kate: Yes. Yeah, we can put all kinds of like beads and glitter and they float. Yeah, .

Cool. So Madeline, did you just come in or have you been here for a little bit today?

Madeline: Um, we came in a little early, but this is like, we’ve just started doing like fair things.

Okay. So what’s, what’s the favorite thing that you’ve seen or done so far?

Madeline: Um, we got to go see the chickens.


Madeline: And we had donuts.

Well, you have to have a, have a fair food, some something fried.

Madeline: Absolutely. Yes. Donuts and corn. That’s my goals.

There you go.

During our conversation with Madeline, we asked her to share her ideas for helping children with visual impairments to better enjoy the fair. And boy did she have some great suggestions.

Do you have any, um, advice that you would give for the Access ABILITY Day crew for next year that something that you’d like to see that maybe you don’t know is here yet?

Madeline: Um, I don’t know. I feel like sometimes. I, a lot of the fair is for like people with sensory disabilities. Um, and I wanna see like a little bit more for like helping visually impaired and hearing-impaired kids be able to participate in activities and games.

Do you have a suggestion for maybe a type of hands-on activity they could do that would be a good sensory one for the blind?

Madeline: Um, I don’t know. It depends A lot of. Um, kids that don’t have a lot of sight do a lot of their things by hearing and touch, so


Madeline: Maybe something centered around that. Something tactile so you could like, measure better or like braille. So

Excellent. I, I like that advice.

Kate: I think you would also love to snuggle some animals.

Madeline: Yes.

Kate: We could have animals that we could touch or hold. That would be pretty special.

Oh, that’s a great idea. Like puppies or kittens or something. Yeah. On that. All right, well, we’ll let you get back to your sensory bottle. I appreciate you, um, checking in with us and letting us, um, include you on our podcast for this week.

Madeline: Yeah,

and it was nice to meet you actually. Cause I, I really appreciated your, your comment that, that you made. It was one of our first episodes.

A graphic for the Access ABILITY Day at the NC State Fair. The graphic has a white background with the word "ability" in bright blue in the center. The word "day" is in white on a black flat to the right of the graphic, and the word, "access" is in bright primary colors across the top. There is an image of a firework exploding at the top right, and the logo and name for the company, Bandwidth, if at the bottom.
Bandwidth volunteers supervised the activities in the Chill Zone area for families with special needs children who needed a quiet space to relax away from the noise of the fair.

In this next video clip, we went to explore the Chill Zone, a special set up by Bandwidth volunteers to help families with sensory needs, find a quiet space to relax and recharge.

Knowing that this area is a vital resource for many families, we were eager to see it in action and learn more about how it’s being used. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at our video footage and see what we discovered when we spoke with some of the volunteers there.

Have you had a good turnout today?

Bandwidth Volunteer: Yeah, so far we’ve had a pretty, um, steady flow people coming in.


Bandwidth Volunteer: Yeah.

Have families seem to have known that you were gonna be here? Or did they just stumble?

Bandwidth Volunteer: Yeah. Yeah, I think most have heard about it. Um, we actually had, one lady say that she was like, very appreciative that we’re doing this for the kids and stuff.

Excellent. And we’ve interviewed a couple people and they’ve, they’ve been really happy with the sensory events that are going on and, um, and they, they weren’t all aware of it. They’re just kind of finding it as they come through.

Bandwidth Volunteer: Yeah.

So. All right. Well thank you. I appreciate the time that you’re putting in and just taking a few minutes to talk with us today.

Bandwidth Volunteer: Yeah, definitely. Thank you.

An African-American woman with red hair and wearing a leopard print sweater looks to the left of the photo. She is smiling. Behind her, a group of children and their teacher are sitting at a picnic table, and a young man is walking past her as she talks to her interviewer.
Arlisha speaks with Tonya about her experience at the NC State Fair.

After seeing how much the Chill Zone was helping families to take a break and recharge at the North Carolina State Fair, I spoke with a group of parents and teachers from ATAP 4 Autism who were experiencing the fair in a different way, I had the pleasure of running into this group as they were enjoying their lunch, and I was thrilled when they agreed to take a few minutes to speak with me about their experience at the fair.

One of the moms, Arlisha shared some valuable insights into what it’s like to navigate the fairgrounds with a child on the spectrum and offered some great suggestions for how the event could be made, even more inclusive and accessible. In this next video clip, you’ll hear directly from Arlisha and get a firsthand look at how families with autism were able to enjoy the North Carolina State Fair.

Let’s take a look.

Arlisha: I heard it through ATAP.

Excellent. And, um, what, what has been his favorite feature so far?

Arlisha: The rides.


Arlisha: Yes, he loves the rides..

So he is a thrill seeker?

Arlisha: Yes, he definitely loves to ride..

Did you check out the chill zone? Does he need quiet spaces?

Arlisha: So far he’s been doing good with the crowd and everything.


Arlisha: So it’s been this, this is the first time since he was five. He’s actually been in a big crowd like this, so he’s doing good so far. I’m proud of him.

He seems to be enjoying it sitting here. So .

Arlisha: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

If you could give the fair advice for next year of any changes they could make or something they could add or take away, what, what, what would be the first thing you would think of?

Arlisha: Um, honestly, for it to be more suitable for them. Cuz I noticed like, it’s not one o’clock yet and it’s a real big, crowd and it’s, yeah, . So I, it’s still supposed to be catered to ’em, but it’s kind of not. So,

so having a little more space, is that what you’re thinking?

Arlisha: Yeah. A little more space. Yeah. It was crowded. A little too crowded.


Arlisha: because they said after one, That’s when the regular crowd does come and seemed like they all came at nine o’clock like we did . So if they would promote it more better for when it’s a day for them.


Arlisha: So we can understand that it’s, you know, for kids like that.

Right. Right.

Arlisha: That’s what I would say. I also would say like more signs and you know, more vendors about kids like them as well.


Arlisha: That’s what I would prefer.

Did you try the, the crafts that they have?

Arlisha: No, not yet.

Okay. So I know they have like a sensory bottle that’s like an oil and water bottle that you can put it’s visual.

Um, and then they have pumpkins that you can decorate.

Arlisha: Okay.

So those are just right at this table right here.

Arlisha: Oh yeah, I like that.

The NC State Fair logo for 2022.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the North Carolina State fair’s Access ABILITY Day, and hearing from some of the families who were able to take part in this special event.

It was truly inspiring to see how the fair organizers and volunteers went above and beyond to make sure that families with special needs could have a fun and enjoyable experience. Now I wanna hear from you. Are there any special events for families with special needs happening at your state fair?

Let me know in the comments below, and we may feature them in an upcoming episode of the podcast. Thank you for joining me on this journey to explore the many ways in which we can support and encourage families with special needs.

This podcast is made possible by support from our listeners. If you wanna help offset the cost of producing the Water Prairie Chronicles, become a supporter at

You’ve been listening to The Water Prairie Chronicles, a podcast created to encourage and support parents of special needs children. If you found value in this episode, hit the like button and subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes of the podcast. I’m glad you were able to join us today, and I hope to see you back next week for another episode of The Water Prairie Chronicles.

Tonya Wollum


Tonya Wollum is a disability advocate and host of the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast which connects special needs parents with resources to help them navigate parenting a child with a disability. She is the mother of 2 college-age children who have each grown up with a disability. That experience, along with a background in education, led her to create the Water Prairie Chronicles to help share what she has learned with parents of younger children to help them know how to advocate for their children.

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