LAFAYETTE, La. — For several years, Lafayette Consolidated Government and Lafayette Fire Department District #5 have provided an accessible parade viewing zone at the intersection of Johnston and St. Julien Street.
The zone marked by cones and tape, can help those needing special accommodation have access to space while still enjoying the fun.
Lafayette Consolidated Government Caylee Deshotel tells KATC, that it's all about having fun while also promoting inclusivity.
"Mardi Gras is such a fun time of the year and the people of Lafayette love the holiday and love going to parades so LCG was committed to creating a space for our disabled residents to enjoy and watch the parades. A place to have a safe environment and have fun with everyone else," she says.
For families in the community like the Stephan Melara, whose two children have spinal muscular atrophy and use wheelchairs, the zone can be a breathe of relief from the crowded streets and tight sidewalks.
“I think it's a great idea having two kids in wheelchairs a lot of times when they are festivals and parades, different kind of events, it's hard to maneuver around," said Melara. "You don’t want to take up peoples space and sometimes we will not go to certain things because their are too many people and you can’t move out the way and navigate through big crowds.”
The zone will also offer wheelchair accessible parking and for Stephan's 16-year-old daughter Isabella, the space is helpful.
“It’s very essential because there’s people with many disabilities weather SMA, if you don’t have a spot to put the ramp down then we won’t be able to get in and out the car safely and that’s very important for families with kids like my family. I think it’s very important," she says.
KATC asked 13-year-old Trevor, if he remembers a time when going to parade was overwhelming for individuals like him with disabilities.
“Plenty of times, obviously when you have a big crowd walking you gotta watch where you are going cause you don’t wanna get them mad or run them over. Or if there’s a step and you have to get somewhere and there a step and you have to get over, the zone just encourages a safe environment and be around people just like you and can also meet someone with disabilities like you,” he says.
Their mother Brittany Melara says she hopes organizers and other businesses will implement more zones in the future across Lafayette parish so that everyone can have a good time during Mardi Gras.
“I know several families like our family who just miss out on the opportunity due to the lack of safety for their children but this gives an opportunity to all be together to feel safe going out and be a part of the community like everyone else.”