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NJ: State fair hosts "first-ever 'sensory-friendly' event"; no lights, music, announcements

Aug 12, 2022, New Jersey Herald: NJ State Fair offers subdued sights and sounds at 'sensory-friendly' carnival event https://www.njherald.com/story/news/local/2022/08/12/nj-state-fair-offers-sensory-friendly-day-for-children-with-autism/65399020007/

FRANKFORD — The carnival area at the New Jersey State Fair normally flashes with bright lights and blares with lively music. For two hours on Thursday, it was strangely subdued. The rides still rattled. But throughout the morning, another noise became more frequent: the delighted yells of riders, enjoying an environment that would usually be uncomfortable for some, unbearable for others.

The muted morning was the point of the fair's first-ever "sensory-friendly" event, organized to accommodate people with autism and other conditions that make them sensitive to light or sound.

Officials with the State Fair/Sussex County Farm and Horse Show coordinated with Reithoffer Shows, the organization that oversees the carnival, to run 18 rides without lights and music from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday. During that special session — the carnival opens at noon all other days of the fair — there also were no announcements over the fairgrounds loudspeakers, another step to alleviate any anxiety for visitors. ...

Fair President Joan Smith, a retired special education teacher, said she got the idea from the International Association of Fairs & Expositions' monthly magazine. She recalled how her students were often distressed by fire drills and other noisy events, so she wanted to create an atmosphere where they could avoid those stressful situations….

The state fair had a willing partner in Florida-based Reithoffer Shows, which has organized similar sensory-friendly days at other festivals throughout the country and thus knows to take extra care when helping the riders. …

Fans on Facebook praised the event for its inclusivity, and Smith said she will do some research and wait for feedback to see what needs to be added or modified next time. She is hoping to sprea