The State Fair of Texas is underway and, needless to say, there are a lot of sights, sounds and smells to navigate — ranging from the scent of fried foods wafting through the air to Big Tex greeting visitors with his signature “Howdy, folks!” throughout the day.
The fair is also known for its flashing lights, musical performances and droves of people lining the streets. But despite the fair’s sometimes overwhelming nature, there’s a way for sensory-sensitive visitors to enjoy the state’s fall tradition.
In order to better accommodate people with sensory issues, such as those with autism spectrum disorder, the fair launched sensory-friendly mornings in 2018. On Wednesdays from 10 a.m to 1 p.m., the fair has implemented programming to make it easier for visitors with sensory issues to avoid getting overstimulated.
“The fair is a place that welcomes people from all walks of life, and we want to make sure we’re being inclusive of all different types of people,” public relations manager Taylor Austin said. “Not everyone can come out and enjoy the fair in its truest form, which is incredibly stimulating.”
She added that inclusivity and accessibility is central to the mission of the state fair.
Organizers have designed private indoor rooms at select locations known as “quiet zones” for people “to depressurize” from the stimulus of the fair on Wednesdays. Additionally, from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays, the Midway — home to many of the fair’s most iconic games and rides like the Texas Star Ferris wheel — turns off its lights and sounds.
“Having an entire hour where none of those lights are happening, or sounds from the rides are happening, is a huge opportunity for folks to enjoy all the fun Midway rides and games,” Austin said.
The fair also assembled an itinerary of low-stimulus activities, including seeing animals at the petting zoo, wandering through the Creative Arts Building or frolicking in the Texas Discovery Gardens.
“We’ve already curated an experience, but the fair is yours to wander and explore, so there are so many different things folks can do on these mornings,” Austin said.
The quieter mornings aren’t just meant for children or people with autism. Fair visitors who suffer from migraines or post-traumatic stress disorder also can take advantage of sensory-friendly days.
“Being able to open our event to this entire community with sensory sensitivities means so much to us,” Austin said, “and to be able to be inclusive of all Texans.”
Wednesdays also coincide with one of the fair’s regular discount days, when visitors can donate five canned food items to the North Texas Food Bank for $5 admission.
But for those with sensory issues who can’t make it out on Wednesday mornings, Austin recommends visiting the fair on other weekday mornings, which historically have less traffic.
To improve the experience of the fair for sensory-sensitive visitors in the future, Austin’s team plans on working with other local partners and listening to feedback from the community.
“We encourage any fairgoers who come out to enjoy sensory-friendly mornings to provide feedback to us,” Austin said. “We would love to take that into consideration as we plan the 2023 fair.”