Easter egg hunt caters to kids of all abilities

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Joining the scramble

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See a full list of weekend egg hunts here.

Five-year-old Olivia Hughes wore a yellow dress with a colorful tutu, clutching a pink basket in one hand and the handle of her small blue walker in the other. She inched her walker forward as she anxiously waited for the countdown.

"Three! Two! One! Hunt!"

Slowly and carefully, Olivia walked around the field gathering colorful plastic eggs that sat atop stacked milk cartons.

Olivia has cerebral palsy and a recent surgery has her wearing blue casts on each of her feet that extend to her shins. But at Saturday's egg hunt, she didn't stand out.

"She can go as slow or as fast as she wants," her mother Carly Hughes said. "She's not competing with able-bodied kids: She would lose."

More than 800 kids brought their baskets and cheer to the Easter Egg Hunt for Acceptance of All Abilities, held at McKenzie Stadium behind Evergreen High School. Organizers estimated about 75 percent of the children had some sort of disability.

The event invites all children to scour for eggs, but makes extra effort for those with mental or physical disabilities.

Stacked milk cartons allow those who use wheelchairs, walkers or crutches an easy reach to the holiday's colorful prizes.

"Parents don't have to worry about what others are saying," said Karen Krejcha, executive director for Autism Empowerment, who sponsored the event with the Miracle League of Vancouver baseball organizations.

"Whether they're melting down or getting rowdy … there's no labels today," she said.

This year, organizers invited businesses and organizations that serve people with disabilities to set up tents and let parents know what they offer.

"There are resources everywhere," said Cathy Edwards, whose 10-year-old son has autism.

There are a lot of reasons Edwards enjoys the annual egg hunt. Not seeing people roll their eyes when her son screams is a nice change, she said.

But the real highlight?

"Their smiles," she said. "I cry every year when I watch them."

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; emily.gillespie@columbian.com