Make your Beach Sensory-Friendly

Many people enjoy visiting the beach. However, did you know that some families avoid the beach? The crowds of people, loud noises and lack of shade can all be very overwhelming for children with sensory sensitivity. That is true for adults and seniors too! Have you ever considered making your beach sensory-friendly? There are easy, low cost ways to make your beach accessible to more people. Make a few simple changes, and more people and families can enjoy the beach.

Understand sensory-friendly

The term “sensory-friendly” simply means that an event or location is adapted to be a more comfortable experience. Oftentimes, this involves considering the impact of an experience on the 8 different senses. Sensory-friendly changes help a lot of people. b. Furthermore, it is important to know that everyone has certain sensory preferences. Therefore, becoming sensory-friendly increases accessibility and inclusion.

Additionally, sensory-friendly changes help to reduce the chances of people experiencing sensory overload. Sensory overload occurs when the sensory experience is overly stimulating. This can occur from sensory-rich environments or stressful experiences. Ultimately, this causes people to feel overwhelmed and frustrated.  

Beach with busy with many different people.

What is a sensory-friendly beach?

There are several changes that can be made to make a beach more sensory-friendly. Below are some common and easy ways to incorporate sensory-friendly modifications at your beach this summer.

A great example of a sensory-friendly beach is Surfside Beach located in South Carolina. This beach was considered to be the first autism-friendly beach in the world in 2016. Importantly, this beach offers safe and accessible spaces for families to travel to if they have children with sensory needs.

Infographic of 6 ways to create a sensory-friendly beach.

Quiet zones

First of all, creating quiet zones at your beach is extremely beneficial for people who are hypersensitivity to noise. For many people with sensory sensitivities, noisy environments can result in people feeling overwhelmed. A quiet zone is a dedicated area for silence and relaxation.

Within the quiet zone, it is important that there is no music, and a limited number of people. Additionally, avoid the use of noisy equipment and whistles if possible. Lastly, put up clear signs in this area for people to understand the rules and quiet zone.

Offer shaded areas

Another common feature of beaches that makes it difficult for people with sensory sensitivities is the lack of shade. Bright environments are often very overwhelming and uncomfortable. This includes sunshine. Furthermore, this can cause people to get overheated making the beach experience difficult.

There are many ways that beaches can offer shaded areas for individuals that prefer to not be in direct sunlight. For example, this can simply include having trees that offer shade. Have beach umbrellas, huts, or small tents to rent.  Importantly, this will allow people to have options between being in the sunlight or shade if they prefer.

Accessible toilets

Also, an important feature of sensory-friendly beaches is having accessible toilets available. Did you know that not being able to use the toilet can cause sensory overload? Oftentimes, beaches have far too few toilets for the number of people. Therefore, it is important to have enough toilets to accommodate everyone on the beach.

Additionally, it will be helpful to have toilets in different locations, instead of just one area. Finally include toilets that are wheelchair accessible, gender neutral and family friendly.

Young couple and child sitting at sensory-friendly beach.

Food and water

Have water and healthy food options available for people to purchase from while at the beach. Spending long times in the sun can cause people to get easily dehydrated. Furthermore, hunger and thirst lead to sensory overload. So, invite food vendors! And ensure there is lots of drinkable water on hand.

Limit numbers

A common sensory issue that occurs on beaches is the large crowds of people. This leads to loud noises and limited space for people to spread out. For instance, being in large groups is stressful for many people. Reduce the number of people on the beach. Both for comfort and safety.

Train staff

Lastly, specific training for staff members working at the beach is an effective way to make the experience more sensory-friendly. Teach staff how to help and interact with people who have different abilities or disabilities.

Use these tips to make your beach sensory-friendly, more accessible and inclusive. For more information on the sensory accessibility of common tourist attractions, read, “Tourism and Autism: An Initiative Study for How Travel Companies Can Plan Tourism Trips for Autistic People” by Hend Mohamed Hamed (2013), an article that discusses tourism and autism 1.  

Finally, interested in learning more about sensory-friendly activities and environments? Read more:

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  1. Hamed, H. (2013). Tourism and Autism: An Initiative Study for how Travel Companies can Plan Tourism Trips for Autistic People. American Journal of Tourism Management, 2(1), 1–14.
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