An NBA game can be an overwhelming experience, but several NBA teams and arena operators have turned to KultureCity for help in accommodating those with sensory needs, promoting environments that allow them to enjoy the sports and events they love.
That help can range from staff training and sensory bags to consulting on the creation of sensory rooms. KultureCity was founded in 2013 by a pair of physicians, Dr. Michele Kong and Dr. Julian Maha, as a program created in response to a real-world problem.
“They very quickly realized that even though they come highly educated from the medical field, there weren’t really a lot of resources available and there wasn’t really anything out there,” said Uma Srivastava, COO of KultureCity. “They had a younger son and weren’t able to enjoy some things because their son had sensory needs and would get overwhelmed from time to time.”
This led to the creation of a study at the Birmingham Zoo, which attracted the attention of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, who reached out about implementing the program at their home venue, then known as Quicken Loans Arena (now Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse).
“At that time, they heard about the training we were doing at the Birmingham Zoo, reached out, and said do you mind coming up and training our staff,” Srivastava said.
That partnership led to the growth of the program not only in the NBA but in other sports leagues around the world.
“We like to use the word serendipity,” said Srivastava. “When we originally thought about all of this, we knew this was going to be popular in Birmingham, maybe in Alabama or even the Southeast. Never did we think that in three years we would be internationally recognized and winning awards for this.”
After working with the Cavaliers, KultureCity began hearing from other NBA teams, who wanted to proactively create similar sensory inclusive environments and train their staffs.
“We have a great relationship with the NBA. We have worked with 23 or 24 of the 30 teams and are actively talking with the other six or seven,” Srivastava said.
KultureCity has different layers for their sensory inclusiveness programs.
“To become certified sensory inclusive, they have to get 50 percent of their staff certified,” Srivastava said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a library of five folks or you’re a large NBA venue that has 1,500 employees.”
Something that is optional is the creation of a sensory room, though a number of venues are offering these spaces. One of the latest examples is the Wellness and Sensory Room at Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors, which we covered in December.
“A lot of these arenas have been around for 10 or 20 years. They don’t necessarily have an empty room laying around that’s available to become a sensory room,” Srivastava said. “But some teams have planned a room for this purpose as they planned their new arenas. When we look at American Airlines Arena, we partnered with them for two years. During one of their offseasons, they realized they could shuffle things around and there would be space available for the room.”
One of the key components for the program are sensory bags that are available for checkout. The bags were developed during the study at the Birmingham Zoo.
“Through trial and error with our speech behavior therapists, we worked with individuals to make sure the items were helpful and not harmful,” Srivastava said
A typical sensory bag includes noise-cancelling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads. Fans can also download the free KultureCity app, which tells them what sensory features are available and where fans can access them.
The bags are absolutely free to check out as long as you have an ID; they have helped fans with different types of sensory needs.
“When you think of sensory sensitivity, people tend to think of autism. However, people with other sensory sensitivities include PTSD, Down’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and ADHD, just to name a few,” Srivastava said. “With the sensory bags, we are able to help meet the needs of these fans and actually allowing a large demographic to go enjoy a game.”
The organization’s work has been met with enthusiasm from fans, according to Srivastava.
“Families and individuals love it. A lot of these teams do autism-friendly nights and
that’s great but if the family wants to go to additional games and their only barrier is the sensory overload, we’re able to help.”
So what’s next for KultureCity?
“We would love to see this relationship expand to the NFL, MLB, NHL and MLS here in the United States. We want to expand it internationally,” Srivastava said. “We are currently in Australian Football and want to see if we can get into other sports in Australia like rugby and cricket. We are working with a soccer team in England and want to expand to the different leagues they have over there. The sky is the limit for us.”
Image courtesy Golden State Warriors.
For more information about KultureCity or how to become a certified sensory inclusive venue, contact Uma Srivastava at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the weekly Arena Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the free weekly newsletter