Why Sensory-Friendly Spaces are Crucial for Thriving DEI Initiatives

Strengthening Accessiblity and Inclusion

Imagine this: A young child, overwhelmed by the flashing lights and loud music at a birthday party, starts crying. An adult with PTSD struggles to focus during a crowded meeting due to the constant chatter and strong overhead fluorescent lights. An older adult with dementia feels confused and disoriented by the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells at a medical appointment in a healthcare facility. Accessibility and inclusion are not part of these experiences, but they can be!

These are just a few examples of how sensory sensitivities and overload can impact people of all ages and abilities. While often associated with neurodiversity and autism, sensory sensitivities can also be experienced by individuals with post-concussion syndrome, hearing loss, PTSD, developmental disabilities, long-covid, low vision, and even dementia. The key takeaway? Sensory sensitivities and overload are more widespread than you might think, and they can significantly impact a person’s ability to participate in everyday activities. Addressing these often-overlooked sensory needs are often missing pieces of accessibility and inclusion.

Here’s where Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives come into play. DEI goes beyond celebrating visible differences like race, ethnicity, and gender. It’s about creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, valued, and empowered to participate. Accessibility and inclusion are central pillars of a strong DEI strategy, ensuring that physical and virtual spaces are welcoming and usable for everyone, regardless of their abilities.

So, how does sensory-friendliness fit into the equation? By incorporating sensory-friendly considerations into your DEI efforts, you’re actively removing barriers and creating a more inclusive space for a wider range of people, including people with disabilities and hidden disabilities. This not only benefits your customers and employees but also strengthens your brand reputation and opens doors to a broader market.

Reframing Disability: A Focus on Accessibility and Inclusion

While disability is a part of the human experience, it shouldn’t be a barrier to participation. An estimated 1.6 billion people globally experience some form of disability, highlighting the need for inclusive environments.

Disability: A Complex Intersection

Disability arises from the interaction between individual health conditions and environmental factors. Physical differences from diagnoses like cerebral palsy or hearing loss can be compounded by inaccessible transportation, buildings, and negative attitudes. Similarly, mental health conditions like depression can be exacerbated by a lack of social support and overwhelming, sensory-rich environments.

a woman tipping her wheelchair back to rest against a wall in a corridor

The Need for Sensory-Friendly, Accessible, Inclusive Environments

Our surroundings have a profound impact on disability. Inaccessible environments create obstacles that prevent individuals with disabilities from fully participating in society. Their disability is not the barrier. The physical, social, cognitive environment is. Fortunately, progress can be made by addressing these barriers. Here’s how:

  • Prioritizing Accessibility: Creating accessible transportation, buildings, and technology removes physical limitations.
  • Fostering Inclusion: Challenging negative attitudes and promoting acceptance fosters a more inclusive environment.
  • Empowering Participation: Providing social support and resources allows individuals with disabilities to thrive.

By focusing on accessibility and inclusion, we can ensure that disability doesn’t limit participation. This creates a more equitable and vibrant society for everyone.

The Power of Storytelling: A Sensory Odyssey

The Impact of Sensory Overload on Employees

Let’s take a moment to step into the shoes of someone with sensory sensitivities. Imagine Jordan, a talented graphic designer on the autism spectrum. Jordan thrives in quiet, well-lit environments with natural light, where they can focus on their work. However, during a team meeting in a brightly lit conference room with flickering fluorescent lights and a noisy air conditioner, Jordan starts to feel overwhelmed. The constant chatter and movement in the room become distracting, making it difficult for them to concentrate on the discussion.

This experience highlights the importance of sensory-friendly accommodations. Simple adjustments like providing dimmer switches, noise-cancelling headphones, or designated quiet spaces can make a world of difference for someone like Jordan. By creating a more inclusive environment, you’re not only fostering employee well-being and productivity, but you’re also sending a powerful message that everyone is valued and their needs are respected.

The Impact of Sensory Sensitivities on Customers

The allure of travel beckons families with the promise of adventure and shared memories. However, for families with children experiencing sensory sensitivities, these experiences can be fraught with challenges. Picture this: a bustling airport terminal filled with flashing lights, echoing announcements, and unfamiliar smells. This overwhelming environment can trigger anxiety and meltdowns, turning a dream vacation into a stressful ordeal for everyone.

But fear not! By embracing sensory-friendly solutions, families can navigate the world together and create lasting memories. Airports often offer designated quiet rooms with dimmed lights and calming sounds, providing a safe haven for overwhelmed travelers. Travelers can also pack noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, and fidget toys to create personal sensory sanctuaries during long journeys. By working together and prioritizing sensory needs, families can unlock the world’s wonders and embark on truly inclusive travel adventures.

In fact, true inclusivity goes beyond accessibility and requires thoughtful accommodation for diverse sensory needs.

Family of three sitting on steps

Accessibility and Inclusion: Considering All Eight Senses

When we think about sensory sensitivities, we often focus on the classic five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. But it’s important to remember that we actually have eight senses that can be impacted by our environment. These include:

  • Interoception: Our sense of internal body awareness, including hunger, thirst, and bladder fullness.
  • Proprioception: Our sense of body position and movement.
  • Vestibular: Our sense of balance and spatial orientation.

A truly comprehensive approach to sensory-friendly spaces goes beyond the typical five senses. By considering all eight, we can create environments that cater to a wider range of needs!

Inclusive Design for the 3 New Senses

For example, offering a variety of seating options like chairs with good back support addresses proprioception (body position) needs. In addition, wheelchair accessibility further removes barriers for those with vestibular challenges. Additionally, ensuring easy access to food, water, and toilets addresses interoception (body awareness) needs, as people with these sensitivities might not always recognize their body’s signals. By incorporating these elements alongside traditional accessibility features, we create truly inclusive spaces that welcome everyone.

Actionable Steps for a More Sensory-Friendly Space: Be Inclusive by Design

Now that you understand the importance of sensory-friendliness, let’s explore some actionable steps you can take to address accessiblity and inclusion for your employees and your customers

1. Conduct a Sensory Audit: Evaluate your space from the perspective of someone with sensory sensitivities as your employee or your customer. Consider factors like lighting, noise levels, textures, and smells.

2. Invest in Sensory-Friendly Products: Offer fidget toys, noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, and other tools that can help individuals self-regulate.

3. Provide Designated Quiet Spaces: Create a calm and quiet area where people can go to relax and recharge.

4. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements: Allow for flexible scheduling and remote work options to accommodate individuals who may struggle in busy environments.

5. Promote Open Communication: Encourage employees and customers to communicate their sensory needs and preferences.

6. Train Your Staff: Provide staff with diversity and sensitivity training to raise awareness about sensory processing and how to support individuals with sensitivities.

7. Partner with Sensory Friendly Solutions: We offer a comprehensive range of services to help businesses and organizations become more sensory-friendly, including training, certification, consulting, and product recognition programs.

The Bottom Line: Building a More Inclusive Future

By making your space more sensory-friendly, you’re not just ticking a box – you’re actively fostering accessibility and inclusion, a critical piece of your DEI work that creates a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. Sensory Friendly Solutions offers specialized diversity and sensitivity training that equips businesses with the knowledge and tools to create truly inclusive spaces for everyone. Watch the video below for an introduction to our training membership.

Make Your Event and Location Inclusive with Training

Dive Deeper: A Sensory Oasis Awaits!

Looking to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone? Look no further! Here at Sensory Friendly Solutions we’re passionate about fostering sensory-friendly spaces that cater to a wide range of needs.

Create a Sensory-Friendly Space: Start with Our Top-Rated Training Blogs Now:

Whether you’re a business owner, educator, or simply someone interested in creating a more mindful environment, we have a wealth of resources to guide you. In our latest blog posts below, you’ll find insightful information, actionable tips, and inspiring stories that will help you unlock the power of sensory-friendly design.

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