Sensory Preferences: Yours, Mine, & Ours.

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There are simple changes you can make so that an event or location is sensory-friendly. When thinking of common sensory-friendly changes, consider dimming bright lights, adding closed-captioning to videos or creating quiet zones. However, there is no single recipe to create a sensory-friendly event or location for everyone, all of the time. Each person is unique. Everyone has distinct sensory preferences. People also have different sensory sensitivities.

Sam, a pseudonym for someone who wanted to remain anonymous, shares their unique perspective about different sensory preferences in this blog post. Sam identifies with having low vision and ADHD (attention deficit hyper-active disorder). Both make them prone to different sensory sensitivities.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to sensory-friendly

There is a myth that instituting sensory-friendly criteria creates accessibility for everyone with sensory sensitivities. This is not the case. Everyone has different sensory preferences. Those preferences exist whether or not you experience any of the hidden disabilities that contribute to sensory sensitivity, or not. Therefore, it is impossible to accommodate all sensory needs at the same time.

Closed-captions

A common example of meeting different needs is closed-captioning. Closed captioning adds written words that can be read, in real-time, while a video or audio track plays. For people with hearing loss, closed-captioning may help them to understand videos or audio recordings. Closed-captions are a text version of the spoken part of an audio recording or video recording. You may also see them on television, in a movie, or even a recorded computer presentation. 

Closed-captions may also help someone who is watching a video in their second language. Being able to read the words as they hear them helps their comprehension.

Women and child looking into eachother's eyes.

However, on the other hand, people with vision loss may find the text on the screen distracting. Furthermore, closed captions can make it difficult to focus on the video images. Therefore, it is important to note that changes to meet one sensory-preference may not help all sensory preferences. So something that helps someone with hearing loss, may not help someone with vision loss. In fact, it might have the opposite effect.

Sensory-friendly clothing

Another example of different sensory preferences is with sensory-friendly clothing. For some people, loose-fitting pants and shirts are more comfortable. Many people find tight-fitting clothing extremely irritating for their tactile sense.

On the other hand, there are many individuals with different sensory preferences who enjoy clothing that has a compression-effect. Tight fitting clothing help many people feel more calm and relaxed.

So, some people prefer sensory-friendly clothing that is loose-fitting, while other prefer sensory-friendly clothing that is tight-fitting.

Lived experience with different sensory preferences

Sam describes their experience with these misconception based on their own unique sensory preferences and needs. For example, Sam uses a cane as a visual aid to help them navigate around their environment in daily life.

They explained that going down long flights of stairs is often difficult for them. Especially due to the landings often found in long stair cases or on long ramps. They explain that their lack of depth perception makes navigating these landings difficult. Ultimately, this causes disruptions in their rhythm of walking, down the stairs or along ramps, as a result of their vision loss.

Woman sitting in wheelchair on concrete.

Sam explained that once they were walking down a big flight of stairs and got frustrated with being disoriented due to the stair landings. To them, they felt that this was not a sensory-friendly feature. Therefore, Sam asked a friend why they even felt these landings were necessary. After this experience, Sam recognized that they failed to account for the importance of these features for individuals with mobility impairments. Those landing are an important feature for someone who uses a cane for mobility and not vision on stairs. Those landings are also an important feature for someone who uses a walker or a wheelchair to rest while using a ramp. They are also likely appreciated by a parent pushing a stroller. Someone who has poor endurance. As a result of this, Sam realized that their sensory needs and preferences differ significantly from those of others.

Therefore, Sam advocates for the need for greater conversation and education about becoming sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive.

Infographic that states, “We need to walk in each other’s shoes' to understand that disabilities can clash with one another.”

“We need to ‘walk in each other’s shoes’ to understand that disabilities can clash with one another.”

– Sam, a person with low vision and ADHD.

How to mange different sensory preferences

Now, it may feel difficult to think of sensory-friendly solutions if everyone has different sensory preferences. However, there are ways to create a personalized sensory experience for people at events and locations.

Offer people options

The key is to offer people options. That lets people customize their experience at your event or location to be a fit for their needs.

For example, allow people the option to turn on or off closed-captions to fit their preferences instead of embedding subtitles onscreen all the time. Offer sunglasses to people who are hypersensitive to light rather than dimming all the lights. Lighting that is too low causes difficulty for people with low vision. Give people options. Furthermore, let people know what options exist. Recognize that everyone has different likes and dislikes.

Promote awareness

Another important thing that Sam notes about different sensory preferences is the need to have more conversations about it. They explained that it is easy to have a specific view of what sensory-friendly should look like based on your own preferences. However, it is crucial to be able to recognize and understand that everyone can have different sensory needs. Therefore, while an event or location may indicate they are sensory-friendly, Sam recommends investigating to see if the options meet your individual needs. And recognize that some of the changes may not be a fit for you, personally. But that they help other people instead. Sam explains that the only way we can encourage accessibility and inclusivity is by having these conversations and educating one another.

“What’s necessary for some people, may not be necessary for another.”

– Sam, a person with low vision and ADHD.

It is important to recognize and understand that sensory-friendly solutions will differ for different people at different events or locations. Sensory-friendly changes help more people. And options for those sensory-friendly changes help even more people feel comfortable.

Special thanks to Sam for their valuable contributions on this post!

Interested in learning more about sensory-friendly solutions? Check out:

Illustration of group of people. Ages ranges from babies to seniors. Some people are in wheelchair or scooter, pushing a baby stroller, have a prostetic limb or wear a hijab. All designed in a blue and orange colour pallet.

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