Chilling out at the Royal Show

Chill-out spaces and a quiet session across the Perth Royal Show brought relief to many people with disabilities this year.

November 12, 2021
5 mins
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Chill-out spaces around this year’s Royal Agricultural Show at the Claremont Showgrounds were welcomed by people with disabilities and their families.

A two-hour quiet time across the showgrounds on Tuesday morning also made the show more comfortable for people very sensitive to noise and sensory overload.

Wanslea collaborated with the organisers of the show, the RASWA, and NDIS Partner in the Community, APM Communities, to make the experience accessible to people with disabilities.

“Just to see the relief and the stress drop away from people as they walked into the chill-out spaces made it all worthwhile,” says Caitlin McLeod, Wanslea’s Community Capacity Building Officer.

“This built on a trial we ran at the 2019 Royal Show to make the event more accessible and inclusive. We want to make it easy for other organisations and businesses to take on some of these initiatives. Businesses generally want to be inclusive but don’t always know what to do. At this annual event, we showcased simple and inexpensive changes that can make a big difference.

“With Lotterywest funding, we acquired three shipping containers for the chill-out spaces, produced maps showing the sensory content of the showground, and had 1,500 tickets to give to families with a child with a disability.

“The price of entry can be a financial barrier for families with a child with disability. If the child grows anxious or overwhelmed at the show, the family would usually leave, often without seeing much of the exhibits. The free tickets gave families a chance to try out the show and the chill-out spaces.

“The sensory maps were colour coded to show places of high sensory load and where the chill-out spaces were so they could get to them quickly. If a family knew their child was sensitive to flashing lights or loud noises, they could avoid those places.

“We set up the chill-out spaces in the three shipping containers at different corners of the showgrounds, so there was always one within easy reach. The containers were kitted out with low sensory items, soft lighting and fairy lights, bean bags, and lots of mindfulness activities, such as fidget balls and colouring in sheets.

“Although intended for people with disabilities, we accepted anyone. Families with young children said they need this to give their children a chance to chill-out.”

 Quiet session was a big hit

The two-hour quiet session between 10 and 12 on the Tuesday morning was very successful, Caitlin says.

“Lights, loud music and PA announcements were turned down to provide families with a low sensory experience of the show. It was amazing to see the difference. Most days, the showgrounds were packed to capacity – 60,000 people – and the crush of people, flashing lights and noise can be exhausting and make some people anxious.

“The RASWA made sure all the businesses and exhibitors knew about the quiet session and included information in the vendor packs. They were all happy to do it and it was great to see so many visitors who were enjoying the calmer space.

“Feedback from families was very positive and they said they would like to have a quiet hour each day of the show.

“We originally took the idea for a quiet session from Woolworths in the 2019 trial. We tend to look at physical access, like wheelchair ramps and ease of getting in and out of places. We typically don’t consider what we can do for people with sensory processing issues. We saw how successful Woolworths’ quiet period at their stores was. It’s a really small change and doesn’t cost anything to implement.”

 The idea takes off

The RASWA plans to take the idea for chill-out spaces and a quiet session to other shows it runs around the country, Caitlin says.

“We plan to work with APM Communities to develop a toolkit that the RASWA can use to implement similar initiatives at future major shows around Australia. We will recommend to RASWA that they include the resource on their website.

“For this year’s show, the RASWA website carried the sensory map on their website and people could view it on their phones.

“With the help of Wanslea’s speech pathologists, we also produced a social story, which tells the tale with pictures of what visiting the show will be like. It’s a good way to set expectations for children about what will happen, such as waiting in line and what they might see.”