Create a Sensory-Friendly St. Patrick’s Day Parade

As St. Patrick’s Day quickly approaches, many communities are in the process of planning their upcoming parade for families to enjoy. St. Patrick’s Day parades often involve crowds of people with lots of green decorations and flashing lights, Irish-themed floats, seasonal costumes, and loud music. These events are exciting for many families and represent a time for communities to celebrate together. However, parades are a problem for parents of children with sensory sensitivities, autism, or sensory disorders. They exclude people because they are sensory-rich. The crowded environment, loud noises and unfamiliar traditions cause many children to feel very overwhelmed. Therefore, ensure that all members of your community enjoy your event, be accessible and inclusive, create a sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day parade!

What is a sensory-friendly parade?

You may have heard of the terms “sensory-friendly” or “autism-friendly” parades before but not quite understood what these types of events involve. Or, you may be confused about how these parades differ from traditional parade celebrations.

A sensory-friendly parade is a parade designed and facilitated in a way that is calming and relaxing for the senses. There are a variety of simple changes to make. Additionally, this process is highly dependent on what your parade environment looks like and what activities are planned to take place during the parade.

Back of a girl's head a sensory-friendly St. Patrick's Day parade.

What are some aspects of parades that are sensory-rich?

Many parade organizers may not be aware of the common characteristics of these events that are a problem for people of all ages with sensory sensitivities. According to research, up to 16% of school-aged children are impacted by sensory processing disorders. Therefore, it is essential to develop accessible experiences for everyone.

Often, features of an experience or environment considered to be the opposite of sensory-friendly are sensory-rich. Additionally, these factors result in greater sensory stimulation. Below are common sensory-rich features you may see at most parades.

  • Crowds of people gathered in small areas.
  • Loud music and instruments playing.
  • Bright lights.
  • Moving decorations.
  • Alarms and sirens.
  • Strong scents or smells.
  • Limited accessibility to bathrooms.
  • Lack of food and drinks.
  • Unfamiliar traditions.
  • Lack of information provided in advance about parade details

How do you become a sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day Parade?

There are several different ways to create a more sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Here are easy and cost-effective strategies you can implement.

Infographic highlighting 7 ways to create a sensory-friendly parade.

Create quiet zones within your parade

Firstly, one of the most difficult parts of parades for children with greater sensory sensitivities is the loud noises. Typically, parades have music, bands and sirens that sound along the parade route. For example, many St. Patrick’s Day parades will have bagpipes, Irish dancers with music, too.

Parade organizers, you do not have to have a silent parade! Simply create a quiet zone along the route. A quiet zone is dedicated areas for families to gather that are significantly less loud than other areas of the event. Instruct various parade floats or musicians to turn the music off, volume down, or just have this spot silent within these quiet zones. There is still lots to see and enjoy! If your quiet zone features more than reduces noise, call it a sensory-friendly zone instead

Limit bright and flashing lights used throughout the event

Other common features of parades that are a problem are the bright and flashing lights. It is not uncommon on St. Patrick’s Day to see flashy green decorations. Although these are exciting and memorizing, they contribute to sensory overload.

Therefore, to create a sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day parade, limit any flashing and bright lights in a sensory-friendly zone.

Ensure there are accessible, gender-neutral and family-friendly toilets available

Many people may not know that having the urge to use the toilet and not being able to do can lead to a sensory overload response. To avoid this issue, it is essential to provide a sufficient number of accessible and gender-neutral toilets at your parade. Often, bathrooms are difficult to access at large community events or are lined up with crowds of people. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you have considered the number of people attending the event and plan accordingly. Let people know with signs and in advance where to access public toilets.

Limit the number of attendees in a zone

Another effective way to create a more sensory-friendly parade is by limiting the number of people attending your event in a specific zone. It will make it less crowded.

To do this, consider organizing a ticketed parade space or having attendees register before the parade for this area. This will avoid you having to turn guests away from the event.

Provide food and drink at your event

Furthermore, another important sensory-friendly feature to include at your event is providing attendees with access to food and drink. Many people at parades will stand for prolonged periods of time. Hunger and thirst do not make for happy parade watchers. Consider your route and if restaurants, cafes and shops exist for people to purchase food.

Provide attendees with instructions prior to the parade

The most important thing to do is to tell people what to expect. Let everyone know about the changes. And that includes the float participants too. For example, if you are creating a sensory-friendly quiet zone, be sure to have directions on where to access that area. Ensure you tell and teach float participants about what they need to change for that zone. E.g. no noise, no flashing lights. Additionally, other attendees need to be aware that specific event areas are for people with greater sensitivities. Keep people informed, and everyone will enjoy it!

Market your parade as a sensory-friendly event

Lastly, a critical part about making a sensory-friendly parade is properly marketing your event as a sensory-friendly celebration! For instance, many families will dismiss the possibility of attending large community events if their children have sensory sensitivities. Therefore, you must market your St. Patrick’s Day parade as an accessible event for all children to enjoy!

Tralee’s Sensory-Friendly St. Patrick’s Day Parade

An example of a sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day Parade is in Tralee, Ireland. We had the opportunity to reach out to the parade organizers to learn more about the efforts Tralee makes to create an accessible experience.

Tralee creates a designated “sensory street” along their parade route. For example, the sensory stress is a quiet zone where families can park their cars and observe the parade. Moreover, within this area, sound and sirens are turned off, chanting and singing are minimized, and fewer musicians play. Additionally, all attendees are advised of the rules of the sensory street prior to the beginning of the parade.

In the ‘Sensory Street’ section, music is turned down to be more mindful. There is no prolonged chanting, pipe bands are changed from 1 piper playing with 1 drummer as opposed to 20 pipers. Sound systems turned down on floats and the police lights and emergency vehicle horns are turned off.

Tralee Parade Organizer

In conclusion, follow these simple strategies to create an inclusive, accessible sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Interested in learning more about sensory-friendly topics? Check out:

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