NBA Creating Sensory Rooms at More Than Half of Its Arenas

By Tara Drinks on May 04, 2018

For most kids, going to a professional basketball game is a thrill. They love watching the constant action and hearing the cheers of the crowd.

But for children with , noisy arenas don’t always hold the same thrill. Now, the NBA is looking to change that.

What the NBA Is Doing The NBA is partnering with nonprofit KultureCity to make 19 arenas “sensory inclusive” by fall 2018. Although some places (like airports) have added sensory rooms, the NBA is taking it a step further.

“‘Sensory inclusive’ refers to a space that offers permanent, daily for those with sensory needs,” Todd Jacobson, NBA senior vice president of social responsibility, told Understood. Sensory inclusiveness benefits not only kids with autism, sensory processing issues, ADHD and Down syndrome, he added. It benefits anyone who is experiencing sensory overload.

The NBA sensory rooms are designed to include soothing colors and sounds. These elements help to create a peaceful space away from the noise of the arena. The rooms also feature tools like multisensory play therapy and technology stations.

In addition to sensory rooms, the arenas will also have staff members who are trained to recognize sensory needs and provide those accommodations for kids and adults who need them.

What Prompted the Change This initiative was inspired by the Belles family. In 2016, Jeff and Amy Belles were attending an autism awareness event at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena with their son, Carson. Carson uses a speech device to communicate.

When the device set off the metal detector, Carson was asked to remove it. That’s when things took a turn.

The parents told CNN that security yelled for them to “get a hold of that kid” when Carson had a sensory meltdown. The Belles later received an apology from Antony Bonavita, the arena’s senior VP of facility operations. Bonavita, who also has a child with sensory issues, was disappointed in how the situation was handled.

It was Bonavita who initiated the partnership with KultureCity. He wanted to make the arena more accepting for all families.

“We saw an opportunity to move beyond awareness toward inclusion and acceptance,” explained Jacobson, “and to make NBA events and venues more accessible to any person facing a sensory disorder.”

What’s Done, and What’s Next The first NBA team to roll out the initiative was, not surprisingly, the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were followed by the Sacramento Kings, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz. And according to Jacobson, more arenas will join the force as well.

“A total of 19 arenas (20 teams) will have sensory accommodations and features available by the start of the 2018–19 season,” said Jacobson. (There are 30 total NBA arenas.)

And the initiative doesn’t just stop there. Earlier this month, the NBA’s New York City flagship store became sensory inclusive.

The Fifth Avenue location will now include customized merchandise and bags for children with sensory issues. The custom bags include noise-canceling headphones, fidget spinners and weighted lap pads to ensure a fun experience for all.

“It’s not necessarily geared just to children or just to [individuals with] autism,” Bonavita told CNN. “It’s a space that is available for any of our guests to go and have an opportunity to regulate or have some quiet time.”


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    About the author

    About the author

    Tara Drinks is an associate editor at Understood.