The New Jersey State Fair returns this year from Aug 4 - 12. Headlining the fair’s itinerary is Children’s Day on Aug. 8, which will feature “sensory hours” from 12 to 2 p.m.
The fair’s website describes sensory hours as “a quiet morning in the carnival area” for those who are sensitive to loud sounds and bright lights.
Fairs are known for their flashing lights, rowdy rides, and lots of noise. These factors can be a trigger for those with sensory issues. Sensory issues can be described as “a condition that affects how your brain processes sensory information (stimuli). Sensory information includes things you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) can affect all of your senses, or just one. SPD usually means you’re overly sensitive to stimuli that other people are not,” according to familydoctor.org.
Sussex County Farm and Horse Show Association President Joan Smith brought the idea of a sensory day to the fair last year.
“It’s a part of our efforts to be inclusive of all people. We want everyone to have fun,” said Smith. “The idea of people coming to the fair that are going to be upset by some of these things did not sit well with me.”
After finding the idea online from the International Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, Smith was immediately touched by the concept and wanted to implement it into the fair as soon as possible.
“It really struck me because I retired last year as a special education teacher. I spent a good part of my life accommodating things for kids,” said Smith.
Transitioning the carnival into a quiet area comes with its challenges, but remains “fairly easy,” according to Smith. A handful of rides will be excluded due to challenges with lighting and sound, but Reithoffer Shows Inc., was able to include 18 different rides to make them sensory-friendly for the special hours this year.
As of press time, the total number of rides that will participate in Sensory Day is unconfirmed, but as the date approaches, more information will become available.
The New Jersey State Fair is currently one of the only local fairs that includes sensory-friendly accommodations.
The local community’s response to the day was “beyond welcomed,” said Smith. Many parents and those who attended were happy to partake in the inclusive opportunity.
“By making adjustments to such entities as lights, sounds, and smells the comfort level for those with sensory sensitivities are increased. These events will provide an opportunity for social interaction,” said Helen O’Shea, Sussex County’s coordinator for special child health services.
Sensory Day is for those with any kind of sensory issues and is open to the public. Smith describes the interaction of those with sensory issues and those without as an opportunity to “foster an understanding for one another.”