Flowers, Floats, Auxiliary Aids and Services: Planning for Access at the Tournament of Roses

by Jennifer K. Skulski, National Center on Accessibility

Who doesn’t love a parade?  The floats.  The marching bands.  The pageantry.  From your hometown Fourth of July parade to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, there’s a festive spirit in the air.  And of course, who doesn’t love the granddaddy of them all…the parade that has brought in the new year for more than 100 years now…the Tournament of Roses Parade.

But we’re talking accessibility the big question is…how do you plan for access for people with disabilities to an event that hosts over one million spectators along a 5 ½ mile parade route? Well, it takes a lot of planning according to Robert Gorski, Accessibility Issues Coordinator for the City of Pasadena. From wheelchair accessible seating, parking, placement of accessible portable toilets, provision of sign language interpreters, and even audio description, the accessible services planned for the Tournament of Roses Parade can serve as an example to communities and groups planning their own parades.

Volunteers, parade coordinators and staff liaisons from the City of Pasadena work together to provide unique viewing opportunities along the parade route for parade enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. Three viewing areas at street level are specifically designated for people with disabilities. In one area—Paseo Colorado, at quarter-mile point in route, there are three sections, one section includes a sign language interpreter while another is designated for audio description. The second viewing area is located at Norton Simon, by Orange Grove & Colorado. It is the famous corner where the parade makes the turn. The third viewing area is located at Sierra Madre. All together there are about 2,100 spectators who utilize the accessible seating, sign language interpreters or audio description in these free seating areas.

According to Gorski, the accessible seating for the Rose Parade was first started as a volunteer effort in the early 1980s when two parade enthusiasts who used wheelchairs coordinated a wheelchair viewing area on Sierra Madre along the parade route. Tongue in cheek, they named the viewing area “Wheelchair Haven.” In just a few years the interests for the wheelchair accessible seating became large enough that the two approached the City of Pasadena to coordinate the effort. The city first coordinated the section in 1988 when they had a total of 75 people. Gorski reports the interest in the accessible seating grew and grew each year, so they continued to add new viewing areas and other auxiliary services.

The signed interpreter section was added after requests from local university students. Many deaf students from the University of California at Northridge helped to build some of the floats. After putting in so many long volunteer hours, they wanted to gather to view the parade together and the city provided sign language interpreter. Thereafter the signed interpreter section was added as a parade mainstay.

Then audio description was soon added. For parade spectators with visual impairments, audio description can create vivid images of beautiful floats constructed with thousands of flowers from around the world. This service is a collaborative effort between Audio Description Los Angeles, Los Angeles Radio Reading Service, the City of Pasadena and the Tournament of Roses Association. Months before the parade, writers are given artists’ renderings for each float in order to develop a script and audio description that will be printed in the program guide. Weeks in advance, professionals trained as audio describers visit the floats under construction to match the float and finalize the description. The day of the parade, audio describers are located in a booth at the start of the parade route and at the audio description viewing area about a mile down the parade route. At each location, the audio describer is paired with another individual that gives the commentary on the float. The description at the booth on the start of the parade route is used for the live broadcast that is transmitted to the SAP channel through the local television station.  The program guide for the parade includes the description and is also printed in Braille and large print.

Be warned though. Viewing the parade in person takes some advance planning, for both spectators with and without disabilities. Curbside viewing is available on a first come first serve basis. It is common for spectators, with sleeping bags in hand, to stake out their seating hours or days in advance. Grandstand seating is run as a concession by Sharp Seating Company and requires advanced tickets which usually go on sale February 1. Grand stands are limited seating to one wheelchair and one guest.

The parade coordinators recognize the Tournament of Roses Parade as a family event and allow up to four guests in the designated accessible sections as opposed to the customary one or two companion seats permitted for the grandstands, at other venues or special events. Since these sections are coordinated by the city, reservations for these areas are also required in advance. Beginning October 1, applications are available to request accessible seating. These applications are processed by volunteers through the City of Pasadena. Once the applications are received, wristbands are sent out to enable spectators and their guests entrance into the accessible viewing sections. Gorski reports they typically issue around 2,100 wristbands each year. And he does point out that for some applicants, plans may change, they don’t make the big trip after all or the parade may come just a little too early in the morning following a big evening of ringing in the new year. Regardless, the Tournament of Roses Parade is certainly one for all ages and its accessible services serve as an exemplar for other communities.

The following excerpt is the script for the commentator and the audio describer for the Eastman Kodak float Memory Lane appearing in the 2004 Rose Parade. The photo is courtesy of the Tournament of Roses Archives and the audio description is reprinted courtesy of Audio Description Los Angeles.

Float Description
COM: 34

Sponsor: Eastman Kodak Co.

Title: Memory Lane

A butterfly garden holds pictures of family and friends


AD: 50 orange, blue, yellow and gold butterflies in dimensions of 5 foot by 3 foot flutter to a height of 35 feet above a white bridge spanning a flowing pond. Each butterfly contains floragraphs on its wings-pictures of people of all ages and races. As the wings flap back and forth, the pictures are shown in different dimensions. Sunflowers in this garden also contain floragraphs of faces.



Memory Lane

Creating images of family and nature have long been a focus of Kodak and the countless individuals of all generations that have used its products – providing a “Memory Lane” for a world-wide network of family and friends. The company’s 2005 float is the colorful embodiment of that Kodak tradition.

The family of mankind is depicted as images on the wings of each of the fluttering inhabitants of this gigantic butterfly garden. The images which comprise the wings of the numerous varieties of butterflies have an impact of each element they encounter, easily leaving their impression on not only the members of their species that they encounter but the flowers – and undoubtedly the parade viewing audience.

Phoenix Decorating Co.

Height: 35 ft Width: 18 ft
Length: 55 ft

A gigantic family of butterflies weaves its fluttering way through a colorful garden, creating a “Memory Lane” for parade viewers. The wings of the butterflies open and close, providing glimpses of images (appropriately called “floragraphs”) for parade viewers. The images depict the family of mankind. From every view and direction is a new “picture.” The fluttering butterflies encounter gigantic sunflowers on their delightful journey through this 55-foot long garden, creating still more images. The whole float demonstrates that, everywhere you look; nature and the “family of mankind” present another picture to be captured to share with family and friends to enjoy later. Kodak, a 40-year participant in the Rose Parade is noted for its ability to provide a world of images and continues its tradition with this highly animated Tournament of Roses entry.

The butterflies feature scores of “floragraphs” on their wings, utilizing a wide variety of dry materials to create the images of grandchildren, children and spouses, family and friends nearly beyond count. The fluttering creatures are created with acetate wings, which are covered with yellow, orange, blue, purple, etc. strawflower, as well as onion seed, crushed white rice, split peas, carnation and iris petals. The bridge spanning the float is created with everlasting and white rice. The base of the float features roses, cymbidium and cattleya orchids.

Kodak is a long-time sponsor of the Tournament of Roses’ Post Parade presentation of floats and the annual “Queens Breakfast” which honors the fabulous women who have worn the sparkling crown as Queen of the Tournament of Roses throughout the generations.

Nearly every inch of this 35-foot tall, 55-foot long boasts animation – with scores of butterflies fluttering their way down the parade route. With its 35-foot height, the float will quickly “fold its wings” to tuck in to a 17.5 foot height to quietly fly beneath a freeway overpass near the end of the parade route.

7 - TBD

© 2003 Los Angeles Radio Reading Service

Special thanks to Robert Gorski, Deborah Lewis of ELA, the Tournament of Roses Archives and Audio Description Los Angeles for their contributions to this article.


The following resources are available for more information on the accessible services for the Tournament of Roses Parade (but you may want to wait until after January 1 to call):

Tournament of Roses Parade
Access for People with Disabilities

Robert Gorski
Accessibility Issues Coordinator
City of Pasadena
City Hall
100 N. Garfield Avenue, Room 323
Pasadena, CA 91109-7215


The citation for this article is:

Skulski, J. (December 2006). Flowers, Floats, Auxiliary Aids and Services: Planning for Access at the Tournament of Roses. Making the Grade. Indiana University-Bloomington: National Center on Accessibility.