Quilceda Community Services staff member Rachael Hartman and client Larry Berg debate how long their corndogs will be during the first Evergreen Morning of Dreams event.
Quilceda Community Services staff member Rachael Hartman and client Larry Berg debate how long their corndogs will be during the first Evergreen Morning of Dreams event.

Inclusive hours were put on the Evergreen State Fair’s schedule for the first time this year.

The Evergreen Morning of Dreams event allotted two hours last Wednesday for people with disabilities or special needs to experience the grounds without the usual crowds. Activities such as the Great American Petting Zoo, animal barns and carnival rides were opened up just for those who have special needs and their caretakers.

Miranda Rocha came out with her two nurses from Snohomish. The 22-year-old has Marshall-Smith Syndrome, which is a rare developmental disease that affects most growth in the body, said her mother Linda Right-Rathke. Only about 50 surviving people are known to have it in the world, she said.

Rocha and her two nurses, who asked to remain anonymous to adhere to HIPAA laws, attended the Morning of Dreams event. One of the women has worked with Rocha for 21 years, and the two have gone to the fair together for most of those.

Rocha is not affected by the sounds, her longtime nurse said. In fact, she actually enjoys the chaos and seeks out experiences with animals that will make loud noises. She can’t speak, but she can hear and comprehend everything going on around her.

“We want to thank someone so much for this, and tell them that we are very grateful they are doing this,” said Rocha’s longtime nurse.

Her nurse that started working with Rocha more recently said it is very hard for people with disabilities to find social events once they reach a certain age.

“Once you become an adult you just get left behind,” she said.

Employees and clients of Quilceda Community Services in Marysville arrived in a group when gates were opened early at 9 a.m. for the first 500 in line. Staff member Amber Low said everyone was there “just to get out and have fun.”

She said the tickets were provided by Eagle Wings DisAbility Ministries; the organization puts on gatherings, such as a prom or holiday celebrations, where people with disabilities can come and socialize in an inclusive setting. Low said her clients often have a more robust social life than herself.

Fellow staff member Rachael Hartman walked around with clients Larry Berg and James Wilson. By 10:30 a.m. Berg said he was running out of steam. He and Hartman stood in line for corndogs and debated how large their meals were going to be.

Wilson said his favorite part of the day so far had been being able to pet the baby pigs and goats. He said he was looking forward to the rides.

The idea for the inclusive day came about last year after a handful of residents contacted the Evergreen State Fair organization to voice concerns about the noise and large crowds common during regular hours, according to a Snohomish County Parks and Recreation news release. The families were worried about bringing their children into such a busy environment.

Staff took the opportunity to open the county’s largest event up to an even bigger audience, including people who are diagnosed with autism, according to the news release. Until 1 p.m. that afternoon, there were also quiet rooms set up for anyone who needed time to experience calmer conditions.

Just before 11 a.m., Melissa Sprague and her mother were waiting for the big rides to open up. The 37-year-old was born in Monroe but went to the fair so long ago she didn’t remember the experience.

The mother and daughter now live in Kenmore. A coach of theirs encouraged them to attend Morning of Dreams. Sprague has Down Syndrome. She wasn’t affected by the noise and the bustle. She looked forward to the carnival — the bigger the rides, the better.

Right-Rathke, an employee for the Snohomish School District who works with students with special needs and disabilities, said she was thrilled to hear about the new event. She said she wished she would have received more information about the inclusive hours sooner, so she could have let more families know about the option.

Sensory needs often go unaddressed in communities, Right-Rathke said. Many of the children she works with are unable to go to the fair because of the noises and crowds. They simply can’t participate because “it sets them into a miserable rage,” she said.

Right-Rathke said it goes unnoticed how many people are excluded from social events. She said she hopes other organizations will jump on this idea as well and offer inclusive hours of their own.

“I think it was a brilliant idea,” she said. “I hope we continue this and reach out to other venues to start this trend.”