Fireworks, flashing lights, and blaring music will capture your audience’s attention, but it might also completely overwhelm certain eventgoers. One in six individuals in the U.S. have a sensory need, such as anxiety, PTSD, or autism. KultureCity, a leading nonprofit that works in sensory accessibility and acceptance, works to educate and assist planners with helping these individuals. Uma Srivastava, who helps lead the organization, says that there are a few things planners can do to create sensory inclusive events. First, before an event, you can create a social story. This is a visual narrative that walks eventgoers through the event so that they can prepare by knowing what triggers to expect and what modifications they can ask for. Then, planners can provide sensory bags, which KultureCity creates, to help individuals regulate. These bags often include noise-blocking headphones, fidget tools, weighted lap pads, and strobe reduction glasses. You can also talk with your venue to see what kind of sensory modifications they provide.
Srivastava says that you don’t have to change your entire event—designing for one community will inherently alienate another. “It’s providing some other elements to the table for those with sensory needs,” she says. Srivastava also says the best thing you can do is to educate yourself and your staff. “Design for those that are typical because we want to make sure everybody gets to enjoy it,” she says, “but as you’re designing, think about your environment and say, ‘How can I train staff?’”
Teach them cues to look for in guests that might be uncomfortable—for example, someone getting up and leaving in the middle of a performance isn’t necessarily rude but might be dealing with a sensory issue. Someone bouncing up and down in their seat might seem rude to the person next to them, but they might be regulating their sensory sensitivity. For planners who want to begin offering more event options, KultureCity has a Sensory Inclusive Certification Program that trains event professionals in becoming more inclusive. Practice patience and empathy, and know that it is a learning process; you’ll get better at accommodating attendees with sensory needs the more you practice.
For more on KultureCity's efforts, head over to our sister publication MeetingsNet.