Too Busy. Too Noisy. Too Bright.

This documentary about sensory-friendly really challenges my thinking. Hi! I am Sydney-Ellen Cooke, an occupational therapy student working for Sensory Friendly Solutions while I complete my University Master’s Degree in Canada to become an occupational therapist. As an occupational therapy student, I often hear the words “sensory-friendly”. However, until recently, I never fully understood what the term sensory-friendly truly meant. Most importantly, I did not understand how to make a location or an event sensory-friendly. And like most people, I thought that only people with a very specific diagnosis had sensory sensitivities or experienced sensory overload.

However, I learned there is so much more to sensory-friendly than most people understand. The mini-documentary “Too Busy. Too Noisy. Too Bright” highlights the importance of creating a more sensory-friendly world.

Everyone has sensory sensitivity of sorts!

One of the main takeaways that I got from watching this documentary was that everyone experiences sensory-sensitivity to a certain extent. As Maggie Higgins or the Saint John Arts Centre said in this documentary about sensory-friendly, sensory-sensitivity is a spectrum.

For example, have you ever met someone who doesn’t like to go to concerts? Or large events because there are too many people around? Or maybe because it is too noisy? Personally, I have several family members and friends that avoid certain events because of their sensitivities. This does not imply that they have a specific diagnosis. It simply means that everyone has their comfort levels when it comes to enjoying their 8 different senses.

It is important to acknowledge that sensory-sensitivity impacts everyone. In the mini-documentary, it displays people of all ages with different sensory preferences. I learned that when organizations, businesses or entertainers make sensory-friendly modifications, they increase the accessibility for everyone.

Moreover, it is useful to note that what helps one person, may not necessarily help someone else! Everyone is unique. For example, the short documentary is purposely shared on YouTube where closed captioning is optional to add. Closed captioning helps many people. For instance, it helps people with hearing loss. In addition, people listening in a second language. But for people with some visual sensitivities, closed captioning can add to cognitive load and sensory overwhelm. That is why this short documentary is on a viewing platform where closed captioning is an option not an obligation.

The background music was also adjusted in this short documentary. However, some people may still find the background music a little distracting, while others may find it a little too empty or blank. But making a small change helps many more people.

Making small changes helps. Having sensory-friendly options helps too.

Infographic quote that states, "When organizations, businesses or entertainers make sensory-friendly modifications, they increase the accessibility for everyone."

Sensory-friendly changes do not need to be costly

A common misconception is that it is costly to change a location or an event to be sensory-friendly. This documentary highlights that several changes can be done that require little to no financial investment.

For example, Abigail Reinhart, of the Social Enterprise Hub, explains that lighting and sound were issues for people at her workplace. She found that workplace productivity declined due to individual sensory sensitivities. Simple changes like adding carpet tile to the concrete floors, acoustic tile to the ceiling, more furniture to absorb sound, as well as providing quiet zones eliminated those issues.

Another example of creating sensory-friendly experiences are singer/songwriter Christina Martin’s performances. In the documentary, she shares the importance of making concerts more accessible for her fans. She includes people with sensory-sensitivities. People with sensory sensitivities find concerts overwhelming. Because of loud sounds, bright lights and crowds. Her sensory-friendly performances involve having quieter shows, smaller shows that modulate the sound levels. Furthermore, letting people know what to expect at her shows has been incredibly helpful.

Not acknowledging sensory sensitivity excludes people

More and more, businesses and organizations create sensory-friendly events and locations. However, more sensory-friendly champions are needed.

As featured in, “Too Busy. Too Noisy. Too Bright.” people cannot go to certain places due to their sensitivities. It makes them anxious, and uncomfortable. For example, people avoid going to concerts, art museums, the movie theatre, eating out in restaurants or working in co-working spaces. The short documentary acknowledges the need for sensory-friendly events or locations. Without them, many children and adults simply cannot do the things they want to do or need to do in daily life.

Sensory-friendly success stories

There are incredible success stories about becoming sensory-friendly. A fantastic example is the chain of Sobeys grocery stores. In 2019 they made 450 grocery stores sensory-friendly with special shopping hours. During these hours, the lights are dimmed, music is turned off, cash register noise is muted, and shopping carts are not collected.

In this documentary about sensory-friendly, I learned that many people, clients, customers, businesses, organizations, employers and performers all benefit from being sensory-friendly. Most importantly, this does not have to be an over-night change. However, making ongoing efforts to be more sensory-friendly is important and appreciated.

There are a wide variety of events and locations that take steps to become sensory-friendly, as shared in the mini-documentary. Another wonderful example is the Saint John Arts Centre, where they made simple changes by creating a quiet space and installing acoustic ceiling tile. The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has several sensory-friendly initiatives throughout the aquarium with a dedicated App by Infiniteach, and at special events. Even Sequoia, a natural and organic store, offers special shopping times for customers with low sensory hours. And households can offer a sensory-friendly Halloween, too!

Read about more about topics related to disability:

Many hands make light work.

John Haywood

Special Thanks

Many people, businesses and organizations supported the short documentary film: documentary subjects Cole, Jonah, Alex, Maggie, Abi and Christina were gracious with their time and sharing their personal stories.

Supporters and champions included: City of Saint John Community Arts Grant, New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-operative, Director Matt Brown of Mountaindale Productions, Producer Elaine Shannon, Writer Kate Wallace, Post-production editor Erinn Sharpe, Voice-over artist Trish Hamilton, Saint John Arts Centre, Social Enterprise Hub, Area 506, Rogue Coffee, Shedd Aquarium, Sequoia Fredericton, Sobeys, and Christina Martin who also provided her music.

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