If you've attended a concert or sporting event lately, you may have found yourself suddenly surprised by a loud sound or a creeping feeling of anxiety just being in a crowd. For many people, these may just be passing annoyances, but for people with sensory issues, these can make attending live events nearly unbearable.
It's something venues and performers have tried to help with, including special "sensory-friendly" showings of plays and movies with reduced volume, smaller crowds, more frequent breaks, and fewer flashing lights.
But these special events are often at times that may not be convenient—if they're scheduled at all. Worse, they force people who may already feel marginalized due to their specific needs to miss out on live or once-in-a-lifetime events. After all, you're not going to have a separate "sensory-friendly" version of the Super Bowl anytime soon.
That's where KultureCity comes in. Birmingham, Alabama-based KultureCity is a non-profit organization that promotes acceptance and inclusion of people who have "invisible disabilities," particularly those with sensory challenges that can accompany conditions like autism, PTSD, epilepsy, and more. It does this in part by providing training and certification for venues so they can develop best practices, allowing these guests to enjoy the same amenities and events as everyone else.
I spoke with Dr. Julian Maha, co-founder of KultureCity, about how the Sensitivity Inclusive program works. Maha emphasized that KultureCity works to promote "sensitivity inclusiveness" over "sensory friendliness."
Though the methods may change from venue to venue, some examples include the availability of sensory-inclusive rooms that let guests watch a basketball game away from the lights and sounds of a loud crowd. Frequently, KultureCity provides "sensory bags" that include things like noise-isolating ear muffs (from the makers of our favorite headphones for kids, Puro) and a lanyard guests can wear that can help staff easily identify people who may be having a sensory-related episode.
Currently, KultureCity certifies over 250 venues in the United States—from NBA arenas to Petco Park—as well as one venue in Canada and one in Australia.
The training and certification is not expensive, costing just $499 for the first year and just $199 for each of the next two years. This same training fee covers small local venues as well as massive arenas alike, meaning even resource-limited organizations can get the training required to help be more inclusive.
It's a great mission, and one that seems to be having a positive impact on many communities. Organizations looking to apply for the program can head to KultureCity's contact page, while everyone else can check them out at KultureCity.org or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.