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Sensory-Inclusive Meetings: Attendees with Invisible Challenges

KultureCity, a nonprofit organization based in Alabama, offers certification and practical help to accommodate all your attendees.

Not all diversity and inclusion issues are obvious. Individuals with sensory issues, such as sensitivities to noise and light, can find meetings and conferences challenging, especially when faced with a loud and crowded trade show floor or flashing lights and amplified music during a keynote speech. One not-for-profit organization, KultureCityoffers a training program and accessories to make every meeting venue a sensory-inclusive environment, from a small sensory room at a hotel to one at the United Center, the home of the Chicago Bulls pro basketball team. 

Uma Srivastava is the chief operating officer of Birmingham, Ala.-based KultureCity, although, like the rest of the organization’s staff, she is an unpaid volunteer. She explains why planners might need help to make an event a comfortable place for everyone: As many as one in five individuals have sensory issues. This can include children and adults with ADHD, autism, Down syndrome, early-onset dementia, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. So, whether there are military veterans attending your meeting, or employees’ family members who are coming to a sales celebration or incentive event, or you simply have a very diverse group of attendees, KultureCity has an easy-to-follow program to guide you through creating a sensory-inclusive event. 

RELATED: Seeing in a Different Light: Outsmarting Unconscious Bias to Create Inclusive Events

In order to qualify for certification, KultureCity requires at least 50 percent of attendee-facing staff to participate in the program, although some venues and organizations train more than that; for example, in March 2019, more than 900 Chicago Cubs employees completed the training. KultureCity has been running the program for since 2015, and initially focused on venues such as the United Center in Chicago and the Greater Columbus Convention Center, which in mid-2019 became the first convention center to earn KultureCity's Sensory Inclusive certification. Meeting planners and other event professionals can also take the course to learn how to create events that are comfortable for those with sensitivities to light and sound.

RELATED: 6 Ways to Improve Conference Diversity

The training includes video modules and a quiz on the content. The trainee has to score 80 percent or higher in order to pass, and the certificate lasts for a year. There is a fee for the training course, which includes a template and guidance on advertising your meeting as sensory inclusive, as well as five “sensory bags” that the meeting professional can loan out at events. Each sensory bag contains a lanyard that looks typical to your attendees but indicates to event staff that the person wearing it may require extra support; noise-canceling headphones; fidgets (small items to keep a person’s hands occupied); a laminated emotions-indicating card for non-verbal attendees; and a weighted lap pad to help attendees sit still during long presentations and speeches.

It is thought that the lap pads work the same way that weighted blankets help people sleep, by mimicking the effects of deep-touch pressure therapy, which has a calming effect. (See the slideshow for details.) All the items can be wiped down with disinfectant and used at multiple events. Trainees are also encouraged to download KultureCity’s Sensory Inclusive app and use it at events to help attendees with sensitivity issues know what to expect, find quiet rooms, and navigate areas with loud noises and intrusive lighting. For more information, contact KultureCity

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