What does sensory-friendly mean and why is it important?
The term “sensory-friendly” refers to creating a comforting experience or space for people. For some, many public spaces or work environments are overwhelming because of crowds, noises, or visual distractions. A sensory friendly environment essentially is a space that is calming to the senses. About 1/3 of the population report experiencing sensory sensitivity or sensory overload. For instance, people with autism, anxiety, PTSD, concussion, hearing loss, trauma and many other chronic conditions, disabilities, disorder or difficulties are likely to have a sensory sensitivity or suffer from sensory overload. It is likely that you know someone with these sensitivities. The number of those with sensitivities is actually on the rise. We live in an increasingly noisy and busy world, whether that be public spaces or work environments. It is also important to note that sensory-friendly environments benefit everyone.
How can we create a sensory friendly environment?
There is no perfect way to create a sensory-friendly environment. Everyone has different preferences and needs and it depends largely on the space you have. The most important thing to take into consideration is increasing accessibility and inclusion. Below are some easy and effective ways to create a more sensory-friendly environment for everyone.
- Bright florescent lights are a common source of irritation and discomfort. By dimming the lights, you can make a space much more comfortable
- If possible, limit the amount of loud noises in the space. A way to do this is to not to play background music or have electronics on silent. If you cannot control the noise level in your space, try providing noise-cancelling headphones for those who may need them.
- Another important factor about noise, is to consider creating a quiet zone. This is an area dedicated to silence or a much reduced noise level. This space and be comforting and enjoyed by children, adults, and seniors experiencing sensory overload or distress. Providing comfortable seating, fidget toys, or magazines/books can be helpful in this space.
- Bathrooms are not something we typically think of when considering sensory-friendly environments. According to experts, having the urge to use the restroom without being able to do so can lead to sensory overload. Providing accessible and a sufficient number of bathrooms in your space can be helpful.
- Providing accessible and comfortable seating is especially important for individuals with mobility impairments or older and elderly adults. Offering seating options in your space can provide individuals with a safe and comfortable place to rest.
Scents and Smells
- Try not to have strong perfumes, candles, or essential oils in the air of your space. Although some people may find these scents and smells nice, others may be sensitive to them.
By, Amanda Navarra, EAP Counseling Intern