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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

Accessibility At Pride Festivals: Bridging The Gap Between Big Cities And Small Towns

ABOVE: Riley Jackson Cormier and Madison Treacy, York Pride’s Arts & Culture, the Director of Riley's Room, and a close friend of Riley

Accessibility At Pride Festivals: Bridging The Gap Between Big Cities And Small Towns

York Pride, which will take place on June 14 and June 15 in Newmarket, is setting a high standard for accessibility with initiatives like “Riley’s Room”…

Ontario’s vibrant 2SLGBTQ+ community is celebrated through approximately 70 Pride festivals yearly, ranging from major city events to regional, county, and island celebrations. While the spirit of pride is strong across the province, accessibility at these events and festivals varies significantly. Major cities often lead the way with comprehensive accessibility efforts, while smaller towns are beginning to recognize the growing need to incorporate accessibility into their frameworks. Large city Pride festivals, such as those in Toronto and Ottawa, have established robust accessibility programs. Pride Toronto, for instance, is renowned for its inclusive measures, which include ASL interpreters, mobility device rentals, and designated viewing areas. These services ensure that all attendees can fully participate in the festivities regardless of their physical needs.

York Pride, while not as large as Toronto’s, sets a high standard for accessibility with initiatives like “Riley’s Room.” This dedicated low-sensory zone, created in partnership with 360 Kids, provides a calm and comfortable space for individuals who need a break from the high-energy environment of the festival. Located at 200 Doug Duncan Drive in Newmarket, Hall # 2 will be equipped with the following:

  • Air cushions
  • Textured tables activities 
  • Slime, painting, and crafts
  • LED Cubes, with toys that are colourful and textured
  • Muted games on the large screen
  • Low-lite areas with LED moving lights and water effect projected onto the ceiling
  • Dark tent for a space to calm down  
  • A weighted blanket 

In addition, there will be a small number of “Riley & Go Bags.” These low-sensory bags will include:

  • Noise-cancelling headphones (adults/kids) 
  • Instant Ice Pad 
  • Water Bottle 
  • Sour Candy 
  • Chew Necklace 
  • Fidget Toy

This initiative honours the memory of Riley Jackson Cormier, a remarkable young trans community member who lost their life to violence and discrimination and who had a passion for low-sensory rooms and underscored York Pride’s commitment to inclusivity. In addition to Riley’s Room, York Pride offers wheelchair rentals, designated viewing areas at key locations, and sensory bags filled with essential tools to ensure a comfortable experience for all attendees. These comprehensive measures demonstrate York Pride’s dedication to making their events accessible to everyone.

Small pride festivals often face challenges in achieving similar levels of accessibility to their larger neighbouring pride festivals. Resources are usually limited, budgets are smaller, and volunteers are fewer, making it difficult for these events to provide extensive accessibility services. As awareness and demand for accessibility increase, small prides are beginning to take steps to improve their pride festivals. This might involve seeking grants, collaborating with local businesses, and engaging with disability advocacy groups to understand better and meet all attendees’ needs. A collaborative approach is essential to bridge the gap between large and small Pride festivals. Sharing best practices, resources, and expertise can significantly enhance the accessibility of smaller events. Successful initiatives like Riley’s Room at York Pride can be models for other organizations to replicate, ensuring they do not have to start from scratch. Leveraging technology and virtual participation options can also help make pride festivals more accessible. Live streaming events with ASL interpretation, virtual low-sensory rooms, and online interactive activities can ensure that those who cannot attend in person still feel part of the celebration.

While the larger pride organizations in Ontario are leading the way in accessibility, growing pride festivals are quickly catching up. By fostering a culture where doors are opened for everyone, sharing resources, and embracing innovative solutions, all Pride festivals can become accessible celebrations where everyone feels valued and included. As we celebrate pride, let us commit to Riley’s mission to ensure that no one is left behind and that every person, regardless of their abilities, can experience the joy and community spirit that pride represents.

The two day York Pride festival will take place on Friday, June 14 and Saturday, June 15 in Newmarket, with the parade taking place on Saturday, June 15, 2024. For more information on York Pride and “Riley’s Room” please visit yorkpride.ca.

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