People with disabilities are gathering at the Fremantle E-shed markets every week for a Friday night disco packed with dancing, laughter and mateship.
The community-run disco extravaganza started more than 12 years ago and has since been growing in popularity, with 80 to 150 people gathering every week from across metropolitan Perth.
People with a variety of physical and mental disabilities come together for two hours to revel in the fun-filled atmosphere.
Darrell Silvester has been a DJ for the free disco since it first opened in 2003.
He has watched it grow and develop into an atmosphere where everybody is like family to one-another.
“There were only a few disabled people initially and then it just sort of escalated,” Silvester says.
“I know most of them, just about everybody and I’ve seen them change and get older over time.”
Food stalls surround the disco stage, so that families and carers can purchase meals including Chinese cuisine, fish and chips, and roast dinners, while dancers get down in the middle of the room.
The music booms, crowds gather, and the roar of laughter can be heard throughout the historic E-Shed.
Ages range from 20 up to 70 and a variety of songs from different genres are played.
Silvester says everyone has their favourite song.
“[The dancers] love songs like ‘Hey Baby’ – that’s become a theme song,” he says.
“… and other classics like Shannon Noll’s, ‘What About Me?’
“… They love the Birdie dance of course too.”
Mother and carer, Dallas Larter, has attended the disco for more than seven years with her son, Blake, who describes the environment as: “a family atmosphere filled with camaraderie”.
“Primarily I went for my son to have somewhere where he could go and enjoy himself and be in an atmosphere where he didn’t feel judged,” Ms Larter says.
“The first thing he says of a Friday morning is “dance” because he knows he’s going there so he must really enjoy it.”
The Friday night discos also offer people with disabilities the opportunity to form long-term friendships with other people they meet there.
“Camaraderie is probably the best thing because they always need friends and it’s very difficult for people with disabilities to make permanent friends,” Ms Larter says.
The discos are also a form of entertainment for parents and carers.
“I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing people with disabilities or special needs having a good time and socialising and feeling comfortable,” Ms Larter says.
“It’s just like a family atmosphere really, like a gathering of people who just want to be together.”
Occupational Therapist, Jasmine Fong, works with people with disabilities at AIM Occupational Therapy in Perth and says that positive social experiences are one of the biggest factors in a person’s well-being.
“Sometimes it’s harder for [people with disabilities] to create or make friends when it’s one-to-one, so being in a group setting and having an activity-based interaction makes that easier for them,” Ms Fong says.
“The value of music and dance is that it’s universal.
“Anyone can enjoy music and anyone can enjoy dance and it doesn’t matter if you do have a visual impairment, physical impairment or cognitive impairment.
“You can still enjoy it.”
The Friday night discos are also a place where preconceived thoughts about disabilities have been broken down based on the ability of people to express themselves through music and dancing.
“We [tend to] forget that each person has their own individual likes and dislikes, their preferences, their favourite singers …,” Ms Fong says.
“And so, I think a forum like the disco is a way of showing that to the public that each individual, despite their disability, is a unique individual that has their own character and their own personality.”
Silvester likens attending the discos to having a favourite football team.
“I think it’s really important … ,” Silvester says.
“The equivalent would be, say, if you follow a football team and it’s going well and you just can’t wait to go and see that team play every week.”
Photos by Isabella Di Toro