A basketball game or concert at State Farm Arena in Atlanta can get really loud.
That can be difficult for those who are sensitive to noise, bright lights and big crowds.
“There might an aspect of autism in the family or PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, from veterans,” said Nzinga Shaw, the Atlanta Hawks’ chief diversity and inclusion officer. “We were very intentional about trying to learn and understand how can our environment be more fitting and more comfortable for families that show up with this dynamic.”
When it all becomes too overwhelming for these fans, the Hawks offer a refuge called the Sensory Inclusion Room.
It’s a small enclosed space with dim lighting, serene bubble displays, beanbag chairs and a few interactive games for children. The Hawks are also able to provide a sensory bag that contains noise-reducing headphones, a weighted lap pad and fidget toys.
In recognition of these efforts, State Farm Arena was recently named the Sensory Inclusive Venue of the Year by KultureCity, an organization that works with businesses to better accommodate customers with sensory needs.
Jane Thierfeld Brown is an assistant clinical professor at Yale Child Study at Yale Medical School. She studies how those on the autism spectrum fare in crowded public spaces.
“All that goes on during an athletic event, plus the smells of all the food and the popcorn or the peanuts and beer and then all the visuals of the faces and the lights and the flashing, that would really be overwhelming,” Brown said.
Brown says more and more businesses are starting to take steps to accommodate those with sensory needs.
David Garcia, vice president of guest experience with the Hawks, says the honor from KultureCity recognizes not only the Sensory Inclusion Room but also the training of all employees from the owner down to the game-day ushers.
“They’re able to diagnose it when somebody might need to come here to the room and really be able to help them,” Garcia said.