Story at a glance

  • People with sensory processing disorder, autism and other conditions can be triggered by live sporting events.
  • Venues are now responding with special sensory rooms and equipment that can help.

The bright lights, loud cheers and shaking bleachers of a professional sports arena can make any fan’s heart race. But for people who are sensitive to sensory stimulation, it can be debilitating. Now, they may get some relief. 

Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., is partnering with KultureCity to make the stadium more sensory-inclusive, according to the Washington Capitals’ website. Visitors now have access to a dedicated quiet room, weighted lap pads and sensory bags, which consist of noise canceling headphones, fidget tools and verbal cue cards. Arena staff will be trained by medical professionals to recognize and handle a sensory overload situation. And even before stepping foot into the stadium, visitors can download a free app on their phones to learn what they can expect when they arrive. 

The changes are part of a more than $15 million Capital One Arena renovation by Monumental Sports & Entertainment that also includes visual upgrades, like a 360-degree continuous video screen of the arena.

"To know that you soon will be able to see families attend a basketball game, a true community binding experience, with their loved ones who have a sensory challenge and who were not able to previously attend, is truly a heartwarming moment," Dr. Julian Maha, co-founder of KultureCity, told the Washington Capitals.

At least one out of every 20 people may be affected by sensory processing disorder (SPD), according to the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder. But sensory sensitivities aren't limited to those with SPD. People with conditions including autism, dementia and PTSD can also have difficulties processing or reacting to sensory stimuli. 

Capital One Arena joins a growing number of sensory inclusive venues nationwide. After the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first professional sports team to create a sensory inclusive room in their stadium, the NBA partnered with KultureCity to make 19 arenas sensory-inclusive before the 2018-2019 season.

KultureCity has also worked with the NFL and MLB to create temporary sensory-inclusive spaces at large events, including the Pro-Bowl, Super Bowl and All-Star Weekend.  

Published on Nov 18, 2019