For many Autistic and ADHD people, going to the county fair is a sensory nightmare. While I was growing up in Southern California, my family and I attended both the Los Angeles County Fair and the San Bernardino County Fair. We continued our fairgoing traditions and started going to the Elkhart County Fair after we moved to Indiana. When I went to the 2 fairs in California, they were not safe to wander on my own, nor was it safe for me to enjoy the carnival rides and games in the midway, due to dangerous guests all over the fairs, mostly in the midway. But at the Elkhart County fair, it is much more safer and I can wander about and enjoy the rides and carnival games as much as I want without the fear of anyone harming me.
Not only is the Elkhart County Fair much safer in then the ones I went to in California, but they also are very disability-friendly. As a matter of fact, the Elkhart County Fair as a special day dedicated to meet the needs of guests with disabilites, including Sensory Processing Disorder. Every first Monday of the Elkhart County Fair is Disability Day. Each day of the fair has a special theme. On Disabilty Day, Special Olympics is there, and they advertise their program and let guests play games in the fair’s park, called Heritage Park. These activities are simple events such as bocce ball, ring toss, basketball shooting, and so much more. If you win the contest, you get a special ribbon, and every one who participates gets a ribbon for participating. I tried it one year and it was fun! Due to my lung disease and poor balance and coordination, I am unable to play sports, but it was fun to partake in those activities. I didn’t win, but still enjoyed it.
On Disability Day, the ride operaters make the rides sensory-friendly by turning off the loud music and and flashing lights. They also turn down the speed of the rides as well, and for a certain period of time for several hours, anyone particiapating in Disabilty Day gets to ride the rides for free without needing a wristband or ride tickets. My best friend who is Autistic has a special interest in anything carnival-related and I go with him and his family every year and I am his ride buddy and we have so much fun until they take me home in the evening. My joints do not appreciate all those rides, but it is well worth it! The fair is his favorite time of year and it makes his day when I can do the rides with him. Due to COVID-19, and having a family member visit during the time of the fair, I did not go with him this year, but may go again next year.
The Elkhart County Fair has wheelchair and scooter rentals for anyone who needs them, and the people there are very kind. This year, things looked different. As a Master Gardener, one of my requirements for the program is helping out in Ag Hall, which is the agricultural building run by my local Master Gardener program. I sat behind the desk with a laptop in front of me and answered questions from guests and consulted with my fellow Master Gardeners for help when I could not assist guests on my own. Next to the desk was a sign that read, “The Plant Doctor Is In”. So many people referrred to me as “The Plant Doctor”. Due to COVID-19, we did not do our Master Gardener talks, because of Elkhart County’s recommendation for social distancing. We were able to run Ag Hall at full-capacity which was a good sign, and mask wearing was encouraged but not required.
In addition to Ag Hall, there were hand washing and hand santitizing stations all over the fairgrounds and signs encouraging you to wash your hands. wear your mask, and social distance as much as possible. The midway also encouraged that you wear a mask, and they cleaned the rides after each session, so it was a longer wait to ride the rides for each group of people that were let on the rides. As for the commercial buildings, there were not as many vendors and there were many empty booths.
This year, Elkhart County Fair had both bee and butterfly exhibits. We enjoyed both exhibits and even bought honey from the bee exhibit. In the butterfly exhibit, they owners would give you a feed stick which was a sponged paintbrush with nectar on it and you can have the butterflies climb onto it and they would drink the nectar off the stick. The types of butterflies were Monarchs and Painted ladies. There were many different flowers in the exhibit that the butterflies were feeding off of, including echinacea (coneflower) and butterfly plant. I spent over an hour in the exhibit taking photos and interacting with the butterflies, and bought an LED butterfly light from the owners of the exhibit to support their organization. It was fun!
We took my nephew into the butterfly exhibit and he did not want to leave! Mum taught us how to tell the difference between male and female Monarchs. Males has black spots on either side of their wings, while females do not. We had some really tasty burgers and fries from the Kiwani booth and I had Orange Dream ice cream which was the special for that day. I was stuffed! You cannot go to the Elkhart County fair and leave hungry! There is always something good to eat for everyone!