Overland Park Unveils Dedicated Sensory Room for Sensory-Sensitive Attendees
Neurodiverse, autistic and sensory-challenged attendees now have a calming and comforting space to retreat to and regroup when feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated while attending events at the Overland Park Convention Center (OPCC) in Overland Park, Kan.
As the first convention center in the world to offer a dedicated space for attendees with autism, anxiety, dementia, PTSD or other similar conditions, the OPCC created its sensory-inclusive room in partnership with KultureCity, a leading national nonprofit that works to improve the quality of life for individuals with sensory needs, which worked with the OPCC to become a Sensory Inclusive Certified venue in the of summer 2021.
“We believe in inclusion at every event, so certifying the Overland Park Convention Center was amazing [and] not only that, to build out the first KultureCity-certified sensory room at a convention center was remarkable,” said Uma Srivastava, executive director of KultureCity, which has created more than 800 sensory-inclusive venues in four countries.
Located at the venue’s Exhibition Hall A entrance on the upper level, the fully-equipped sensory space offers a quiet and soothing atmosphere with reduced lighting and noise. Multiple sensory calming tools including bean bags, visual light panels, bubble walls, activity panels and a custom tactile art piece created by an autistic artist are available to help attendees feel more at ease until they’re ready to rejoin their event.
Not open to the general public, the inviting, permission-only room is available for guests to use in 15-minute increments or longer if needed.
The OPCC also offers KultureCity Sensory Inclusion bags, equipped with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads for convention center guests to borrow during an event.
In order to make all the programs and events it hosted sensory inclusive, more than 50% of the OPCC’s staff went through KultureCity’s certification process to learn how to be trusted advocates for visitors with sensory needs. Training with leading medical professionals included how to recognize attendees with sensory needs and how to handle a sensory overload situation.
According to Brett C. Mitchell, OPCC general manager, the goal of the sensory room is to provide sensory accessibility so everyone can enjoy and feel welcome at events hosted at the venue.
“After completing our certification and learning so much about the challenges faced by this community, creating a sensory room was a logical next step for us,” Mitchell said. “One of the major barriers for these individuals is over-stimulation and noise, which is an enormous part of the environment in event venues. With this initiative, the convention center is better prepared to assist guests with sensory sensitivities so they can attend and feel comfortable.”
To help sensory-challenged guests feel more prepared prior to attending an event at the venue, attendees can download the free KultureCity App to see what sensory features are available and where they can be accessed. The app also includes a “Social Story” feature that provides in-depth information about what to expect while at the venue, from entering the building and finding their event, to interacting with convention center staff and finding quiet areas.
“Our communities are what shapes our lives, and to know that the Overland Park Convention Center is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone, no matter their ability, is included in their community is amazing,” Srivastava added.
KultureCity works to help individuals engage in their community by educating different types of organizations on how to be more sensory inclusive via certifications, hands-on staff training and many other tools to help create a more welcoming and inclusive environment. To learn more about their Sensory Inclusive Certification program, go here.