This past Sunday was the seventh annual Disability and Cultural Festival, an event organized by Théâtre Toupatou to bring awareness to people living with disabilities and challenges in Haiti.

As URL Media partner The Haitian Times reports, this year’s theme was “opening up to albinism,” in hopes of shedding light on all underrepresented communities and increasing advocacy for their inclusion in all facets of life.

“With this kind of activity taking place, I feel really happy,” Vanessa Saintvil, an aspiring dancer, told The Haitian Times. “We [disabled people] don’t always have support, and now they have taken care of us.”

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.3 billion people throughout the world experience a significant disability — roughly 16% of the world’s population. Pew Research Center reports there are roughly 42.5 million Americans with disabilities, making up approximately 13% of the population who aren’t living in institutions.

It’s often easier to see what people with physical disabilities need in order to access public spaces, it can be much harder to recognize the needs of people with less obvious disabilities — especially children.

So when Tiera Turner’s sons were diagnosed with autism, she knew she had to do something to give them a space where they could play without feeling like they had to apologize for being themselves.

Her solution was to create “a neurodivergent-friendly play space in her own backyard, with a trampoline, rock climbing wall, and water activities for her sons,” URL Media partner Prism reports.

But she knew that for many kids this kind of outlet didn’t exist, so she found a vacant property in Detroit where she can open a sensory gym and activity space as a franchise location of We Rock the Spectrum.

“Having a place where your child can come and be themselves and, if they’re not perfect and they’re gonna scream and they’re gonna have a tantrum, no one’s gonna stare at them and no one’s gonna kick them out is really important,” Dina Kimmel, founder of We Rock the Spectrum, told Prism.

Kimmel, who lives in Los Angeles, started the business as a way to provide a space where her son, who has autism, and her daughter, who does not, could both play and feel like they belonged.

As Prism reports, the need for autism-friendly play spaces is continuing to grow with diagnoses rising steadily since 2000 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began tracking the developmental disability. As of this year, the CDC reports 1 in 36 8-year-olds are on the spectrum

Knowing this, we should all support the need for more inclusive spaces for people with disabilities.

Uplift. Respect. Love.

Alicia Ramirez authors URL Media's Friday newsletter and pens our Saturday newsletter, The Intersection. She is also founder of The Riverside Record, a community-first, nonprofit digital newsroom serving people living and working in Riverside County, California.