You Can Make Halloween More Inclusive

You Can Make Halloween More Inclusive

Halloween is one of the best times of the year to be a child. When October rolls around, children eagerly anticipate the opportunity to get dressed up and go treat-or-treating.

It is a once-in-a-year chance to visit neighbourhood homes that have been transformed with jack-o’-lanterns and spooky decorations. There will be scores of children dashing up and down front steps this Oct. 31st to claim their share of the Halloween candy. But what about those whose disabilities may hinder their ability to enjoy the fun that many take for granted?

Children with disabilities can be unintentionally forgotten on Halloween night. These trick-or-treaters face many obstacles that even the most well-intentioned homeowner might not consider: dimly lit entrances, porch stairs, curbs and steep-sloping driveways. Even flashing lights and loud noises can prevent some from taking part in the fun. Worse, strobe lights can trigger seizures and migraines for those with epilepsy or sensitivities to lights.

Treat Accessibly Works to Remove Barriers.

Fortunately, efforts are being made to make Halloween more inclusive. Take for example Treat Accessibly, which was founded in 2017 with the aim to remove barriers for children with disabilities. This effort began when the organization's co-founder, Rich Padulo, was decorating his Toronto home for Halloween and looked up to see a boy in a wheelchair.

"We locked eyes for one second and you know when you see a whole world of experiences through the windows of soul and I realized that child can't trick-or-treat at most people's houses just because of stairs," he told CBC News.

According to the organization, more than 400,000 Canadian children identify as having one or more disabilities.

Because their home has stairs that made it inaccessible for children in wheelchairs, the Padulo family decided they should change the way they gave out treats. They founded Treat Accessibly to encourage others to join them to make Halloween more accessible.

Noting that some trick-or-treaters may have difficulties navigating inclines, stairs and curving walkways, the organization offers tips to ensure everyone can enjoy the night:

  • place your trick-or-treating station at a location that is easily accessible to all;
  • make sure the path to your trick-or-treating station is well lit;
  • clear your driveway and pathways of any obstacles;
  • park your vehicle on the street or in your garage to allow easy access;
  • set up your trick-or-treating station at the end of your driveway or in your garage; and
  • if your home doesn't have a driveway, consider using your vehicle to trunk-or-treat and show your creativity and decorate your vehicle to make it special.

Movement is Growing.

"The beautiful part about Treat Accessibly is it's a curb-side scenario," Padulo told CBC. "People get to trick-or-treat outside. No one's going up to front doors, it makes it easier for neighbours, parents and friends to feel more social outside and also be COVID safe.” The family designed a lawn sign that people can print themselves or pick up at a local RE/MAX office to show their participation in the program.

In 2020, 40,000 homes had a Treat Accessibly Halloween, according to the organization. Two years later, 150,000 Canadian homes took part. By 2025 it is hoped that 400,000 homes across the country will follow Treat Accessibly guidelines.

The organization also introduced Treat Accessibly Halloween Villages that are scheduled during the day in the weeks prior to Halloween to make it easier for parents and caregivers to plan and organize. This year, nine Canadian cities including Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton and Oakville will have their own villages, which are free to attend with pre-registration.

‘Unique Ways of Behaving and Communicating.’

Easter Seals Canada is also encouraging people to make Halloween more inclusive, stating some trick-or-treaters may have diverse behaviours and communication styles.

“Children may have unique ways of behaving and communicating and carry a blue pumpkin. They may have different ways of saying ‘trick or treat,’ whether signing, using assistive technology, taking more time to speak or by not saying anything at all,” Easter Seals states. “Remember that while some trick-or-treaters may appear older, they may still be very young at heart and would be thrilled for a treat. A smile and a friendly wave go a long way to show you appreciate them for stopping by.”

They recommend describing or showing children the treats you are giving them for those who are blind or deaf.

Accessible Costumes are Available.

Part of the thrill of Halloween is the costume but some children with different accessibility needs may have a difficult time with some traditional offerings. However, more retailers are now offering accessible or adaptive costumes to accommodate those in wheelchairs or with sensory needs and other conditions.

These costumes feature openings for tube access, open backs for easy dressing, stretchy fabrics and wheelchair-friendly fits.

Of course, there is no question that free treats remain Halloween’s big allure but not all children can eat candy, so homeowners are encouraged to stock some non-edible treats such as glow sticks, crayons, stickers or small toys to hand out.

Teal Pumpkin Project.

The Teal Pumpkin Project was launched nine years ago by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) to raise awareness and promote inclusion. According to FARE, one in 13 children is living with food allergies and many others are impacted by food intolerances.

“Virtually any food can cause a reaction. Many popular Halloween candies contain nuts, milk, egg, soy or wheat, which are some of the most common allergens in children and adults,” the organization states. “Additionally, many miniature or fun-size versions of candy items contain different ingredients than their full-size counterparts and some miniature candy items may not have labels, so it is difficult for parents to determine whether these items are safe for their child with food allergies.”

Organizers say the intent is not to discourage the time-honoured tradition of giving out candy but to offer non-food options. FARE encourages people to paint a pumpkin teal and display it outside their homes to show they are participating in the program. If you can’t paint a pumpkin, you can print out a sign to hang in front of your home.

Every Child is Unique.

It is important to remember that different disabilities can affect how someone interacts with others. However, a little patience and understanding go a long way to ensuring that all trick-or-treaters feel welcome.

For Rich Padulo and his family, the goal is to teach “all children about accessible inclusion every day and helping them get started by practising Treat Accessibly at their home on Halloween.”

“We’re showing and not telling our children how to be aware of other people’s needs and create change,” he told CTV News.


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