How to Create Sensory-Friendly Events

A Guide for Businesses and Organizations

Sensory-friendly events are becoming increasingly common as more people identify as having sensory sensitivities and the experience of sensory overload. These events cater to individuals who experience discomfort or overload from certain sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or touches. Moreover, by creating a sensory-friendly environment, businesses and organizations can be more inclusive and welcoming to a wider audience.

This blog will equip you with the knowledge and tools to create sensory-friendly events that benefit everyone, including your team and your customers!

What is a Sensory-Friendly Event?

A sensory-friendly event considers the eight senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, vestibular, proprioception, and interoception) to create a comfortable and inclusive space for people who experience sensory overload or sensory sensitivity. Yes! You have at least eight senses, not just five. In fact, research cited below by Fletcher et al. (2022) indicates that sensory-friendly events can be positive experiences for both those with and without sensory sensitivities. For example, sensory sensitivities and sensory overload are experienced by people who are autistic, neurodivergent, and also people who have PTSD, post-concussion syndrome, hearing loss, and for many, many other underlying differences or disabilities.

Young couple holding cups at an outdoor sensory-friendly event.

Sensory-Friendly Events: Unveiling a World of Inclusion for a Surprisingly Large Audience

Offering sensory-friendly events demonstrates your commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) by making your space welcoming to a broader range of people.

Importantly, this research, “The Sensory Totes Programme: Sensory-Friendly Autism Program Innovations Designed to Meet COVID-19 Challenges” by Fletcher et al., (2022) has found that sensory-friendly events can benefit both people with and without sensory sensitivities 1.  

Beyond inclusion, keep reading to explore the key changes that make events welcoming to everyone.

How to Create a Sensory-Friendly Event: A Three-Pronged Approach

Planning a sensory-friendly event involves focusing on three key areas:

  1. People: Train your staff and manage guest expectations.
  2. Location: Choose a spacious venue with adjustable lighting, minimal noise, and a quiet zone.
  3. Activities: Offer a variety of activities that cater to different sensory preferences and allow for breaks.
Infographic outlining how to create a sensory-friendly event based on the people, location and activity.

People:

Empower Your Staff with Sensory-Friendly Training:

While sensory sensitivities are becoming more widely recognized, knowledge gaps still exist. Sensory Friendly Solutions can bridge this gap by providing comprehensive training for your staff and volunteers. Furthermore, this training equips you with the skills and knowledge to confidently interact with guests and staff who may have different sensory needs.

Here’s what your staff will gain:
  • Identifying Signs of Sensory Overload: Learn the subtle cues that indicate a guest might be experiencing sensory overload.
  • Clear and Concise Communication Techniques: Discover effective communication strategies to ensure all guests feel comfortable and understood.
  • Providing Accommodations: Explore practical ways to accommodate guests with sensory sensitivities, fostering a truly inclusive environment.

Make Your Event and Location Inclusive with Training

Importantly, simple training can make a world of difference. Because, empowered staff create a welcoming atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable and valued.

Manage Expectations:

Firstly, be transparent about the event’s schedule and activities. This allows guests to prepare for potential sensory triggers and choose activities that suit their needs. Provide this information in advance through your website, social media, or email blasts.

Location:

Pick Your Space:

Select a spacious venue that can comfortably accommodate the number of attendees. Crowded spaces can be overwhelming for people with sensory sensitivities. Furthermore, opt for open areas with good acoustics and avoid locations with excessive echo.

Reduce Noise Levels:

Minimize background noise whenever possible. Avoid loud announcements and consider forgoing background music unless it’s a core element of the event.

Quiet Zones:

Create a designated quiet zone, a haven for guests seeking a break from noise and stimulation. Critically, this quiet space should be free from crowds and offer comfortable seating.

Lighting:

Choose a venue with adjustable lighting or utilize features like dimmers and blinds to control the brightness. For example, harsh fluorescent lights or direct sunlight can be bothersome for some individuals.

Eliminate Smells:

Minimize strong scents by avoiding scented candles, essential oils, and heavily fragranced plants. Moreover, be mindful of cooking smells, and ensure proper ventilation.

Bio-Breaks:

Provide easy access to food, water, and toilets. In addition, allow guests to bring their own snacks and drinks if desired. Finally, ensure there are adequate toilets, including:

  • Wheelchair-accessibility
  • Gender-neutral options
  • Family-friendly facilities
  • A private lactation room or nursing station for mothers.

Sensory Kits:

Offer sensory kits containing noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, and sunglasses. These kits empower guests to manage their sensory experience independently.

Activities: A Sensory Symphony for All

Sensory-friendly activities are the heart of an inclusive event. By offering a variety of experiences that cater to different sensory preferences, you engage a wider audience and create a truly stimulating, but enjoyable, environment. Here are some ideas to spark your creativity!

Small Groups or Solo Activities:

Offer options for small groups or solo activities alongside large group activities. This helps individuals who may find large groups overwhelming.

Sensory-Friendly Activities:

Plan a variety of activities that cater to different sensory preferences. Here are some ideas to inspire you:

Visual: 
  • Use natural lighting, include shaded areas and areas that are safe, with good lighting, but no bright or flashing lights.
  • Having both visually-rich and visually-reduced zones is helpful.
Auditory
  • Calming music stations, storytelling sessions with different vocal tones.
  • Ensure there are quiet zone/no sound zones, too.
Tactile:
  • Mindful Fidgeting Stations: Provide a variety of fidget objects with different textures and weights, such as stress balls, squishy toys, smooth stones, worry beads, or textured knitting squares.
  • Art Exploration: Set up stations with materials like air-dry clay, sculpting tools, textured rolling pins, and stencils. Participants can create small sculptures or personalized keychains.
  • Coloring or Doodling: Offer coloring books with intricate patterns or adult coloring pages featuring mandalas or geometric designs. Include colored pencils, crayons, and gel pens with varying textures.
  • DIY Sensory Bags: Offer stations with various materials like beans, rice, pasta, buttons, and small trinkets. Participants can create personalized sensory bags by filling fabric pouches with these materials, creating different textures and weights.
Smell:
  • Guided Relaxation with Scented Playdough: This activity combines calming scents with tactile exploration. Provide pre-made playdough infused with calming essential oils like lavender or chamomile. Participants can knead the dough while following guided relaxation techniques.
  • Remember to consider any potential allergies when choosing materials, and avoid using scented products if creating a scent-free environment is a priority.
Vestibular: 

Movement breaks with gentle stretches or yoga poses, balance challenges using wobble boards or therapy balls, or designated areas for bouncing or jumping.

Proprioception: 

Obstacle courses with proprioceptive challenges (crawling, climbing, balancing), activities that involve pushing or pulling objects, or opportunities for heavy work like carrying weighted bags.

Keep it Varied:

Intersperse large group activities with opportunities for solo or small group participation. Offer movement breaks throughout the event to allow guests to regulate their energy levels. Balance loud activities with quieter ones to create a sensory ebb and flow.

Group of friends enjoying their time at a sensory-friendly music festival

Conclusion: The Power of Sensory-Friendly Events

By following these tips, you can create a sensory-friendly event that opens its doors to a wider audience, fostering a more inclusive and welcoming environment. This isn’t just about checking a box; it’s about creating a space where everyone feels comfortable to participate and engage in their own unique way. Sensory-friendly events not only demonstrate your commitment to DEI but also unlock the potential for a richer, more vibrant experience for all attendees.

Become a Sensory-Friendly Champion: Resources for Businesses and Organizations

Invest in Inclusion: The Power of Sensory Friendly Solutions Membership

Crafting a sensory-friendly event doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive. Sensory Friendly Solutions offers a low-cost training membership designed to empower businesses and organizations like yours. Gain access to a comprehensive library of informative courses and downloadable resources to learn exactly what you need to create a sensory-friendly event.. Our membership equips you with the knowledge and tools to navigate sensory needs effectively, transforming your events into welcoming and inclusive experiences for all. This translates to a wider audience reach, a more positive brand image, and a stronger commitment to social responsibility.

Unveiling Success Stories: Top Reads for Businesses

Curious to see how other businesses are hosting successful sensory-friendly events? Explore our most popular blog posts specifically designed for businesses and organizations! These articles address the most frequently asked questions about creating sensory-friendly experiences. Learn how to implement sensory-friendly practices seamlessly into your events, ensuring a positive and inclusive experience for every attendee.

Stay on the Cutting Edge: Explore Our Latest Insights

The landscape of sensory-friendly events is constantly evolving. Sensory Friendly Solutions remains at the forefront, providing you with the latest research and innovative approaches. Delve into our most recent blog posts, brimming with fresh ideas, practical tips, and effective strategies. From creative sensory activity ideas to communication techniques for neurodiverse individuals, these articles equip you to create truly inclusive and enriching events for all. Ready to dive deeper? Explore our blog for a wealth of resources, or consider a Sensory Friendly Solutions membership for ongoing support and expert guidance.

Sensory-Friendly Fun for All: Explore Event Ideas by Type

Looking for inspiration to create inclusive events that cater to diverse sensory needs? Check out our blog posts packed with ideas for sensory-friendly events across various categories:

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Source

  1. Fletcher, T. S., Wiskera, E. S., Wilbur, L. H., & Garcia, N. M. (2021). The Sensory Totes Programme: Sensory-Friendly Autism Program Innovations Designed to Meet COVID-19 Challenges. World Federation of Occupational Therapists Bulletin, 78(1), 44–52. https://doi.org/10.1080/14473828.2021.1943868
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