Sixteen years ago, Ford Arts, Beats and Eats began as a Detroit-area, Labor Day weekend event celebrating the best in live music, artistry, and cuisine; this year was no exception. The festival opened Friday August 30th complete with the wafting smells of delicious local fare, the pulsing sounds of talented musicians, and a vast display of the best of local artistry and brand alike. Carnival rides, bounce houses, games, and face painters guaranteed to deliver smiles for even the youngest of attendees. Something for everyone, it would seem.
There is one group often set apart from the "everyone" ~ the autism community. Those who have autism are by and large unable to tolerate the stimulation of big crowds and loud noises. They can lack the patience to wait in long lines and to adhere to the constraints of normal social graces. They can be easily distracted and prone to wandering - a dangerous possibility in lieu of the fact that many with autism lack the ability to communicate in a way that most can easily understand. These things all become barriers to the families who attempt to participate in festivals and isolate those who have long since given up trying, in the face of many failed attempts.
This year was different. The charitable partnership of The Autism Alliance of Michigan and Autism Speaks with the festival was particularly noteworthy; their well-planned, compassionate endeavor making the event accessible and fun for Michiganders and their families affected by autism. The organizations offered reserved spaces for up to five family members to participate in the event on either Saturday or Monday. The package was incredibly generous including free parking at a garage directly next to an entrance, free all-access ride wristbands for those family members and free water bottles. The gates opened two hours early to ensure a lack of crowds and the absence of music, removing those barriers that might normally keep many of such families away.
If that wasn't enough, the kind owners of The Peking House opened the second floor banquet room of their restaurant and hosted a free lunch sponsored by Olga’s Kitchen, The Town Tavern, and Benito’s Pizza who provided salad, a chicken-macaroni casserole, and pizza respectively. There was even a delicious gluten-free desert sponsored by the talented bakers of Sisro’s Cakery. Families were seated together at large tables, providing the opportunity to interact with others in the autism community or more simply put, to be amongst friends.
A special, heartfelt thank you is in order for all those who made this possible, right down to the volunteers in various autism-themed garb; each and every one of them with big smiles and open hearts for those they spent the day serving. Your efforts did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Those of us who benefited are grateful in ways these words do not do justice to. To you, we raise a glass and say eat, drink, and be merry! It is because of you, that we were able to do the very same.
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