It’s a rite of passage. Along with the end of high school come the gowns, tuxedos and corsages: prom night is an evening anxiously anticipated by high school guys and gals alike, and it pales in comparison only to graduation day.
But not everyone gets to go to the grand promenade. Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unable to experience the magic of prom due to sensory and social differences.
Now in its fourth year, A Chance to Dance is an annual event held by the TCU chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association. It allows teenagers and adults with disabilities the opportunity to experience prom in a fun and inclusive environment. This year’s A Chance to Dance event was held March 25 in the Brown-Lupton University Union.
“Sometimes, typical prom events don’t adhere to the needs of individuals with disabilities,” said Courtney Garcia ‘15, who founded A Chance to Dance in 2014 while she was an undergraduate student at the Davies School of Communication Sciences & Disorders. “It’s really fun for them to have the opportunity to come out and enjoy an evening with their friends and have an evening of independence.”
Garcia had the idea for the event as an incoming freshman after hearing about a similar program elsewhere. By the time she was a junior, she knew she was ready to bring A Chance to Dance to the TCU campus.
Garcia, now a TCU graduate student working to obtain her master of speech-language pathology, says those facilitating the event work to accommodate the special needs of the attendees by keeping flashing lights to a minimum and ensuring the music isn’t too loud for those with sensory sensitivities. Arrangements are also made for those in wheelchairs or with dietary restrictions.
She says one of the best things about A Chance to Dance is the way it positively impacts a community in need. Senior Molly Haines, TCU’s current NSSLHA president, agrees. Haines and her fellow NSSLHA members work to contact interested families, organize the event and clean up afterward.
“It’s a fun event for the attendees and their families,” Haines said. “A lot of people who come have never been to a fun dance event or a prom. We just want them to feel special, to feel like a typical high school kid.” Haines says her favorite thing about the event is making a connection with those who come.
“I just love dancing with them on the dance floor,” she said. “A lot of parents tell us this is their child’s favorite night of the year. It’s very rewarding.”