Tuesday, April 13, 2010

FestiFools Celebration in Ann Arbor

April Fools Day can extend well into the month in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the 4th annual FestiFools Parade took place on Sunday, April 11. This one hour parade on Main Street is rapidly becoming a community spring frolic, celebrating foolishness of all sorts with puppets of all sizes and interactive play between the parade and the audience. Advertised as "free and accessible to all", the event attracted not only my mother, brother and I, but thousands of people who crowded the downtown sidewalks for the spirit lifting experience.

Before the parade started, I noticed an empty wheelchair pushed by a woman who's older mother walked alongside to wherever they were going to station themselves. Otherwise I didn't see any other wheelchair users until later in the parade when a long line of kids who had built robot costumes out of cardboard boxes appeared. I think they had all participated in a costume making party at the library prior to the event. Mixed in was one child in a wheelchair, who thankfully made the event truly visibly inclusive.

With so much energy going into the immensely fun aspects of the event, I couldn't tell how much thought has gone into developing greater inclusion. The streets were so crowded that attendees with physical disabilities need to arrive early to get good curbside spots. Event organizers might consider designating some sections for specific use by people using wheelchairs to view if these don't already exist. I hope to see more wheelchair users and other people with disabilities in the parade in future years. As we left I noticed an ambulatory teen aged girl with developmental delay alongside her mother on the sidelines. People with disabilities were certainly present! I hope their attendance will grow as FestiFools does.


Mark said...

Thank you so much for writing this and bringing this issue to our attention.
My name is Mark Tucker and I'm the founder and creative director of FestiFools. Your message is going to start helping us put together a much better plan for handicapable viewers and participants at next year's FestiFools. I hope you'll encourage more people to come--as soon as we get a plan together we'll have information for people with disabilities on our website for 2011 --any help in that regard would be GREATLY appreciated--letting us know what would be an ideal set-up for an outdoor street event for starters. (Please go to our website, festifools.org and send me an email if you're interested in helping out). I would really appreciate it.

Here's what I just wrote this morning to two of our "Fools Court" (steering committee) members who help coordinate our on-street operations --so we've put it as a priority on our agenda for next year's event:

Hi Cathy (and Shary),
Shary has been gently coaching me on certain requirements we need to put in place for audience safety and coordination--and frankly, I was inclined to adopt the "people will figure it out" philosophy--until I read this blog: http://everyoneoutdoors.blogspot.com/2010/04/festifools-celebration-in-ann-arbor.html
and realized that it's built into our mission to help those that can't help themselves.

So, this year we'll give ourselves a break. Who really knew the crowds were going to be that big? We hoped, but we didn't know--and with different weather, this wouldn't have been brought to our attention--yet.

But next year we need to cordon off a safe, yet fabulously Foolish fun way of making sure people who are handicapable can see or be part of the show, if they wish.

Let's start cranking the ideas...

P.S. I saw several people in wheelchairs during the event, and didn't really think anything of it--so integrated it must have felt like to me.

Lori said...

Hi Mark,

My name is Lori and my son was one of the folks on wheels at the parade. The crowds were super supportive and we had a nice time at the festival. One thing that I wanted to note, however, was that it was difficult to enter the parade area because there were no ramps for wheelchairs. We had to enter halfway down the street and then double back to the start of the parade. A small ramp from the parking lot where folks gather to the sidewalk would be very helpful.

Thanks for putting on such a nice event!


Mark said...

Thanks for sharing your good suggestion, Lori.

We're going to figure out not only how/where to put in ramps, but how to publicize it (which is the harder part, actually) so that people will know where they are located for next year. Thanks so much for braving the crowds this year and coming out to support our brand of public art in Ann Arbor.


Marcy said...

This has been a great round of comments! Thanks Mark and Lori! I'm so glad that FestiFools is on board with improving access for everyone to this wonderful event. Anyone interested in making festivals more accessible should visit www.everyonesinvited.com. Laura Grunfeld offers professional services to support event organizers in developing comprehensive access.