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Giving people with disabilities a 'fair' chance at fun

Goshen News - 7/24/2019

Jul. 23--GOSHEN -- Rides spun or swayed a little slower, lights were toned down and music was muted along the Elkhart County Fair's midway Monday morning for the benefit of fairgoers with disabilities.

People including Malachi Malone, Erin Rosenberry and Keelie Hunter got to experience the joys of the fair on a day when the fair worked to accommodate needs like theirs.

Disability awareness was the theme for Monday. In the spirit of that, about 18 -- 20 midway rides were modified for a couple hours in the morning to be more accessible to attendees with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said Doug Thorne, director for disabilities awareness day. The rides were also open to them without charge.

"For two hours, the midway operator really creates an experience for our participants that they couldn't otherwise have at the fair," Thorne said. "Without that, I would say everybody from small children to seniors might not otherwise get to experience the midway without the modifications."

Operators reduced speeds, tempered the intensity of bright flashing lights and cut the volume of loud booming to help prevent overstimulation.

"It's big. It's big for some of these kids. You see some of these kids had headphones on, so that makes a big difference," said Trisha Malone of Elkhart.

Her son Malachi, a Memorial High School student who's autistic, hit the "Pharaoh's Fury," at least five times while he was there, Malone said. The ride, a giant swing shaped like a long boat, didn't arc as high for the special needs guests. Malachi raised his arms over his head in the downswings -- the universal sign of loving the thrill of a good ride.

Meanwhile, Keelie Hunter, an ADEC resident, shrieked with laughter as she took a whirl on the "Himalaya," a ride with cars that speed on a circular track with slopes. In keeping with the theme, the "Himalaya" accelerated slowly with a less-intense spin.

Erin Rosenberry, an 11-year-old from Elkhart with developmental delay and epilepsy, beamed as she flew down the "Fun Slide" with her older brother Evan.

In their moments of fun, Malachi, Keelie and Erin were no different than anyone else venturing onto a carnival ride.

"It feels great because they can walk around with no judgment," Malone said.

Erin's parents, Barb and Mike Rosenberry, were grateful the fair took steps to take people with disabilities into consideration.

"It's wonderful that she can take part in the fair in these type of activities," Barb Rosenberry said. Her husband added, "They're very accommodating. They'll wait and be very patient."

The idea was to create a more inclusive environment, one fun for everyone.

"It's all about bridging those gaps and making those connections, and just showing that we're all the same kind of person. And it doesn't matter if you have a disability or not, you can always come to the fair and have a good time," said Joe Kuharic, community specialist at ADEC.

Games were also set up at the fairgrounds' Heritage Park.

Participants could dribble basketballs, roll bocce balls or toss softballs, to name a few of what was available for fun or for prizes.

A sensory tent was also set up at the park to serve as a temporary sanctuary in case sensitive attendees became overwhelmed by the fair experience, according to Kuharic.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316.

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(c)2019 the Goshen News (Goshen, Ind.)

Visit the Goshen News (Goshen, Ind.) at www.goshennews.com

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