Poughkeepsie, NY … After last year’s fair cancellation, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Dutchess County Fairgrounds President Andy Imperati are eager to invite individuals with developmental disabilities and their families to the return of “ThinkDIFFERENTLY Thursday” at the Dutchess County Fair on August 26th, 2021. Individuals with developmental disabilities and their families will be able to enjoy the Dutchess County Fair ahead of the crowds with a special early gate opening at 9 a.m. and sensory-sensitive hours throughout the morning on the carnival midway from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Families are encouraged to secure tickets online early. Tickets are available exclusively online this year and can be purchased at dutchessfair.com.
County Executive Molinaro said, “After a long and difficult year-and-a-half for everyone, I am thrilled for the return of the Dutchess County Fair and ‘ThinkDIFFERENTLY Thursday.’ It is important for all to be able to enjoy the allure the Fair provides and being able to include sensory-friendly offerings is best of all. We thank the Dutchess County Agricultural Society and the entire Dutchess County Fairgrounds team for their continued commitment to ‘ThinkDIFFERENTLY’ and their collaboration on this inclusive event.”
The Dutchess County Fair is a favorite annual event with people of all ages enjoying carnival rides, agricultural exhibits, horticultural displays, and so much more. For some individuals and families with developmental disabilities, however, the lights, sounds, and crowds can make it difficult, particularly for those with sensory processing issues, to enjoy all the Dutchess County Fair has to offer. The flashing lights and loud music, in addition to waiting on lines for rides, can cause stress and anxiety.
The Fair is offering individuals with developmental disabilities and their families early entry to the fairgrounds on Thursday, August 26th starting at 9 a.m., an hour before the official 10 a.m. start time. The early opening is a chance to enjoy the fairgrounds, including the animal barns on Livestock Hill and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County 4-H Exhibit Hall, ahead of the crowds. Although all the attractions and exhibits will not be open at 9 a.m., the soft opening provides families a chance to ease into their day at the Fair as the fairgrounds prepare for the day ahead, and before the arrival of crowds of fairgoers.
In addition, the Power’s Great American Midway area will open at 9:30 a.m. and will be “sensory sensitive” until noon. The flashing lights, music and other sounds and noises will be turned off throughout the morning for those impacted by sensory processing issues, giving them the opportunity to enjoy the rides without the drawbacks that lights and sounds can cause. The early midway opening also means fewer people and little to no waiting time for the carnival rides, making it easier for individuals who need extra time or have difficulty with the distractions of crowds. Throughout the morning, ThinkDIFFERENTLY ambassadors will also be walking around the fair answering questions and giving out information. Noticeable in their bright blue shirts, these ambassadors invite fairgoers to chat with them and ask questions at any time.
This year, for the first time, Dutchess County ThinkDIFFERENTLY staff and ambassadors along with Dutchess County Parks and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Dutchess County's 4-H program for children with special needs will be stationed at the Fair all week long to provide information and resources for families and individuals and help answer any questions at the new ThinkDIFFERENTLY/4-H tent, located at the bottom of Livestock Hill next to - Dutchess County Dairy Committee milkshake booth, near the Gate 2 entrance.
Dutchess County Deputy Commissioner of Special Needs, Dr. Toni-Marie Ciarfella, said, “Our tent will provide information on a wide variety of programs and services available for families, like comprehensive maps of Dutchess County Parks which showcase accessible parks for every need. Dutchess County is proud to be an inclusive county and our ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative is a great model of that. Stop by and see us at the fair or visit ThinkDIFFERENTLY.net for more information.”
Children of all ages with disabilities will also participate in 4-H exhibits. From arts and crafts to animal showing these kids will be shining as they show off their talents. 4-H Program Leader, Jane Rodd said, “Our goal was to provide youth of all ages whose abilities might make participation in regular 4-H Clubs difficult with the chance to learn about aspects of agriculture and interact with farm animals. The majority of these youth will be exhibiting at the 2021 Fair – an experience they may never otherwise have had. Join us to support them as they showcase their skills in the ring and in their very own tent!”
Also new this year, the 4-H program will provide a “Quiet Space”, providing a tranquil, cool place for those families and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who need a break from the activity of the Fair. Donated by “Habitat Dutchess Restore”, soft comfortable couches, chairs, and rugs will be available at the fair’s “4-H cafeteria” located next to the new ThinkDIFFERENTLY/4-H tent, right by the Gate 2 entrance.
Mr. Imperati said, “We are so excited to host the 175th Dutchess County Fair, as its return has been long-awaited by many. We are once again looking forward to partnering with Dutchess County to offer ThinkDIFFERENTLY Thursday this year. Seeing the joy on all the faces of those participating reinforces the importance of ThinkDIFFERENTLY day.”
Dutchess County’s “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” initiative, launched in 2015, is a call to action to help make Dutchess County a supportive an inclusive community for individuals of all abilities. Since its inception, more than 100 villages, towns, cities, and counties across New York State and across the nation have made the commitment to “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” in their communities. Other county fairs have adapted sensory-friendly resources, based on the Dutchess County Fair’s ThinkDIFFERENTLY precedent.
The Dutchess County Fair runs Tuesday, August 24th through Sunday, August 29th, opening at 10 a.m. each day. Admission and ride tickets can be purchased ONLY online. Children 11 and under are free. On Thursday, August 26th, families coming to enjoy “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” Thursday must enter the Fair at the main ticket gate, at the Welcome Center, conveniently located near accessible parking. For more information and a full schedule of the Dutchess County Fair’s events, see https://www.dutchessfair.com/the-fair/.