The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, has launched a new program to accommodate people with sensory sensitivities. Starting August 24, the museum will offer visitors free kits with a variety of equipment that they can use throughout their visit. According to Cleveland Scene, the kits include “noise-dampening headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards, weighted lap pads, and other resources.”
The Hall of Fame joins a variety of institutions that have taken similar steps toward inclusivity in recent years. Smithsonian reported earlier this year on a variety of D.C. museums that have tried to become more sensory friendly by opening early for quiet hours or by creating dimly-lit spaces that visitors can retreat to should they become overwhelmed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City offers a sensory friendly guide that highlights spaces that tend to be quiet and dimly lit along with spaces that are often loud and crowded.
Autism Friendly Spaces, a New York–based nonprofit whose mission is to “unlock minds and transform spaces to welcome the full participation of the autism community,” says that sensory friendly spaces adjust “the auditory, visual, and olfactory stimulation to levels acceptable for the population that will be experiencing it.” People with autism spectrum disorder may be “more or less sensitive than other people to sensory input, such as light, noise, clothing, or temperature,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
For museums like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, sensory sensitivity poses a real challenge because many shows are designed to stimulate a variety of senses at once. As Smithsonian noted, exhibition design has trended toward multisensory experiences that are more than purely visual displays. The sensitivity kits offer a variety of tools that can either dampen sensory input or offer coping mechanisms, like the fidget tools or weighted lap pads, and they are one way in which museum design is tackling inclusivity and accessibility more broadly.