Aiming to offer the wonders of the ocean to all, the Seattle Aquarium welcomes people with disabilities, injuries or chronic illnesses and their families to DreamNight, a free event held twice each year. Below, we share thoughts from some of the many people involved in this great event—an attendee, an ASL interpreter, and an Aquarium staff member.
“My family attended Dream Night on April 15. We were welcomed by the smiling faces of the wonderful staff. We had no wait time as they were quickly getting everyone signed in. They had maps, earplugs, and an amazing snack setup for anyone who needed it. My kids loved all the activity stations where they could color and make headbands. We were surrounded by helpful volunteers to answer any questions we may have had.
It was so nice being surrounded by families who are so understanding and accepting of the energy levels of our wonderful children. We felt so comfortable and right at home. Not only was it extremely fun for everyone but also educational. They had a designated "quiet zone" for the kids who like a little less sound.
Overall it was an incredible experience that far exceeded any expectation. I'm so grateful to everyone who made this possible, and would highly recommend it to families who find it hard taking their children to places like this on a regular basis. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
—Elizabeth, DreamNight attendee
“As the doors close and the last visitors leave, a kind of quiet lull settles through the Aquarium, broken by employees and volunteers setting up their tables and preparing for the many delightful talks and activities that will fill the evening.
I’ve been an American Sign Language interpreter for nearly five years now. One of my favorite jobs is when I have the opportunity to interpret for the Seattle Aquarium’s DreamNight. I’ve interpreted for DreamNight the last few years, and each event is filled with a decidedly magical atmosphere. When I’m there, the staff are always so interested and eager to learn what they can do to make their talks and activities more accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
Recently, at my other job, a family came in and the father asked me if I was an interpreter. I told them I was, and asked how they knew me. His daughter then told me that she recognized me from interpreting at DreamNight, and that she wanted to thank me. They explained how it was their first time to the event, that they enjoyed being able to experience the Aquarium in a way that was accessible, and that it was great to be surrounded by diverse families who understood that as well.
I love that through DreamNight I can meet many families, work with the lovely staff of the Aquarium, and together, we can build connections throughout the community.”
“I had the good fortune of attending DreamNight this year as a community volunteer. I’ve always enjoyed working on this event, but seeing it from a different perspective and being better able to observe the participants reinforced what we learned was so important to the families who attend.
Walking through the bird exhibit I saw a family with a three-year-old boy who became very, very excited. One of his dads quickly knelt by his side and began whispering to him and calmed him immediately. I greeted the dad and his son when they approached me by the oystercatcher exhibit. With tears in his eyes, the dad told me this was the first outing they had managed to take as a family with their autistic son who also has seizures when he gets too excited. I was so impressed at how well his dad was able to calm him. I was so touched at how grateful the whole family was at being able to have an evening out together for the first time and in a setting where they told me they didn’t worry about being judged if their son’s behavior didn’t seem “normal.” By then we were all teary.
This was not the only time I heard this from participants during the evening, and I have heard similar sentiments expressed over the years along with how warm, welcoming and in-tune with participants the staff and volunteers are. I feel privileged to continue to observe and participate.
DreamNight is an international event, but the Aquarium’s involvement with differently abled children and adults started many years ago with a collaboration between the Aquarium and the Little Bit Special Rider program (a therapeutic riding program). Little Bit board member and Seattle Aquarium photography intern Gail Scott teamed with early childhood education staff member Ruth Yeomans to create an overnight event for families served by the Special Rider program. In turn the Little Bit staff provided Seattle Aquarium staff with disability awareness training each year.
These overnights continued for many years with up to 125 participants! The event transitioned to the DreamNight model in 2013, which increased Seattle Aquarium staff and volunteer participation but still included the community volunteers who had been participating for many years. While the original overnight event was very special, the new evening format allowed many more families from many organizations serving this population to participate.
Always innovative and with great consideration of the audience, I look forward to seeing what the DreamNight planners develop for DreamNight 2018.”