Enter any sports facility on a Saturday morning and it’s a cacophony of sounds. Sneakers are squeaking. Coaches are barking plays. Parents and teammates are roaring in approval when athletes perform amazing moves. While there’s a certain energy that radiates from the in-game experience at tournaments, for the 1 in 6 individuals who have a sensory need, these moments can be anxiety-inducing. It’s not uncommon for certain sounds, crowds, smells, or lights to cause physical discomfort for these individuals. As you can imagine, adverse reactions, such as an elevated heart rate, confusion, or even vomiting, can make it difficult to participate in or enjoy sporting events.
At Rocky Mount Event Center (RMEC) in Rocky Mount, NC, the sports facility management staff have worked to alleviate this issue through a partnership with KultureCity, a non-profit organization that provides resources for sports facilities and events that want to create a sensory-inclusive environment. Definitions of this type of environment may vary but generally include variations in sound and light levels, a reduction of sudden loud noises or flashing lights, and providing quiet spaces for guests.
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To make their facility sensory-inclusive, Rocky Mount’s staff took part in KultureCity’s certification program. The program includes modules that teach sports venue professionals how to recognize the signs that a guest is having a sensory issue and processes for serving them. As part of the certification, they also received a variety of items to help build a sensory inclusive experience, including specialty sensory bags equipped with noise canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards, and weighted lap pads. Additionally, RMEC designated specific places within their venue as “quiet areas” in which people can go if they have a sensory need.
According to David Joyner, general manager at RMEC, the certification has already made a positive impact on the guest experience in a few key instances. “During a recent volleyball tournament, we recognized that a gentleman was suffering from a sensory issue. We approached him using the skills that we learned in the certification process and was able to get him to one of our sensory rooms,” said Joyner.
The gentleman suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and was thankful for their ability to help him. The RMEC staff was also able to help an athlete who suffered from a panic attack during a tournament.
RMEC is one of over 350 facilities worldwide with a sensory-inclusive certification from KultureCity. It’s an initiative that Joyner hopes will further establish their growing reputation for providing a superior customer experience. “The training has led us to see tournaments differently. Previously, it was more about execution, now we work to ensure that any event we host is a comprehensive experience that includes providing a safe space for all our athletes and guests.”