Corner Brook sci-fi fest to feature sensory-friendly room

A popular science fiction and fantasy festival in Corner Brook will include a space for people who are strongly affected by bright lights and loud noises.

This September, Atlanti-Con will feature a sensory-friendly room that people can access whenever they begin to feel overwhelmed with the action in the main arena at the Corner Brook Civic Centre.

In addition to a dedicated room, there will be "sensory hours" when the entire festival will be respectful of those with sensory sensitivities. Lights will be dimmed and patrons will be asked to be mindful of the noise level during those periods.

The idea to make the festival more accessible for people with sensory sensitivities came from an experience at their most recent event, said organizer Jeff Keeping.

"Last year we had an incident that we didn't know exactly how to handle," Keeping said.

It's very important to me that people don't feel that they need to be socially closed in — that they can come out and enjoy something. - Jeff Keeping

"We as a planning committee, we have a social responsibility to learn about this affliction and make sure people are comfortable and include it in our event."

Atlanti-Con staff and volunteers are working with the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador to learn how to make the festival experience more enjoyable for all patrons. Representative from the Autism Society will also attend the festival this fall to help increase public awareness about autism spectrum disorder.

Personal reasons

Keeping said he understands what it's like to be a little different from other people, and that is another reason why he wanted to make sure the festival included everyone they could.

Cherie Wheeler/CBC photo

"It's very important to me that people don't feel that they need to be socially closed in — that they can come out and enjoy something," he said.

"And, of course, being a nerd and a geek myself, we were ostracized as kids. We were always told 'You know, you're going to be different.'"

He said that sometimes teenagers escape into science fiction or video games in order to deal with their emotions or situations they experience as they mature. Part of the reason for this festival, he said, is to celebrate that.

"Growing up, your only retreat from that sort of reality is Star Trek or Star Wars or video games or board games or whatever ... It's a painful sort of emotional feeling to be not included with everybody else," Keeping said.

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"So, it's important to me that we include as many people as we can in this event."

Atlanti-Con is scheduled to take place in Corner Brook from September 27-29.

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