AccessAbility Fest will be held at Market Square on Nov. 8. Courtesy image.

AccessAbility Fest, a day-long event that aims to unite people with disabilities and their families to learn about disability resources in San Antonio, will take over Market Square on Sunday, Nov. 8.

Melanie Cawthon, who works with children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities at Reaching Maximum Independence, co-founded the event nine years ago to establish a public gathering spot for people to interact with one another, learn from exhibitors that work in health care and related industries, and hopefully leave happier than when they arrived.

“One of the ways that we create awareness is having (the fest) in a public forum,” Cawthon said. “We are in a very public venue so that even if you are just waking through Market Square you can find a resource that you didn’t know existed and all of a sudden life is better.”

Most disability services “operate in silos,” Cawthon said, so people with multiple disabilities often have difficulty navigating the system of services to find the resources they need.

80 exhibitors will be present for the 2015 AccessAbility Fest. Courtesy photo.
80 exhibitors will be present for the 2015 AccessAbility Fest. Courtesy photo.

The fest will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m and will highlight resources and information from a variety of different fields – from public awareness to employment, from legal issues to faith and spirituality – tailored for people with disabilities. Health and wellness demonstrations, music and dance performances, a costume contest, and other acts will be held throughout the day. Click here for a complete schedule of events.

Texas Public Radio, the fiscal agent for the fest, secured sponsorship and underwriting for the event so it’s completely free of charge.

“There’s so much information out there and the red tape and the bureacracy of finding the services is complicated and difficult,” Cawthon said. “My passion comes from making this easy for everyone.”

AccessAbility Fest attendees crowd Market Square. Courtesy photo.
Previous AccessAbility Fest attendees crowd Market Square. Courtesy photo.

The fest will host about 80 exhibitors and Cawthon is expecting between 4,500 and 5,000 attendees. She has three main goals for the fest. The first is to create awareness for those with disabilities to find the resources they need, the second is to educate providers about the other resources in the community, and the third is to create awareness around the contributions that people with disabilities make to the community.

“I like that providers are learning about one another,” she said. “Especially in the nonprofit world people tend to be very protective of their clients and that isn’t always the best benefit for the individuals who need services.”

Cawthon’s passion for the fest stems from the experiences she’s had during the past eight years as a volunteer. Two or three years ago, it poured rain on the day of the fest, she recalled, but about 500 people showed for the event despite the rain. Since many people with disabilities can’t drive and must take the bus, she said that turnout stood to represent the value of the AccessAbility Fest.

The fest requires more than 200 volunteers for it to be a success. If you’d like to be a volunteer, please register here.

*Top image: AccessAbility Fest will be held at Market Square on Nov. 8. Courtesy image. 

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Joan Vinson

Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....