The Mets have joined forces with KultureCity, an organization that aims to improve accessibility for people with autism. Specifically, KultureCity has worked with a number of sports stadiums, theaters, and other locations to become more “sensory inclusive.”
Sensory processing challenges can be a standalone condition called Sensory Processing Disorder, but they frequently occur alongside autism, ADHD, cancer, and other health issues. This can manifest as aversion to loud noises and bright lights or sensitivity to touch, but can also include twitchiness or “ants in the pants” and can be responsive to deep pressure, fidget devices, and a variety of other tools. A mild sensory trigger could be annoying or cause fatigue over time, but more severe triggers can be physically painful or cause intense anxiety and distress.
Stadiums are notoriously difficult for individuals with sensory processing needs to navigate comfortably. Many teams, including the Mets, have held Autism Awareness Day events that include ticketing in a section with reduced speaker volume, but this is not available on other dates. It can also be challenging to simply sit in place for long periods of time, even when the activity is an enjoyable one.
To create an environment that is inclusive of individuals with sensory difficulties, the Mets are now lending out “sensory bags” at no cost that include: noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, and cards to help people who are non-verbal communicate their needs. Weighted lap pads are also available. They can be picked up at the Ticket Services Lobby, which is inside the rotunda entrance, and need to be returned to the same spot. A credit card or ID is required to be left to ensure the materials are returned.
The team has created designated quiet areas during the game at the Hodges, Seaver and Stengel Plaza Level 1 elevator lobbies and trained staff in understanding and responding to sensory concerns.
The KultureCity app provides stadium-specific information as well as a “social story,” a visual guide that outlines what fans can expect while attending a game at Citi Field, including security procedures, seating, concessions, and exiting. These are used most commonly with autistic children, but can actually be helpful for neurotypical children as well.
As a family member of someone with sensory needs, I’m very pleased with the team taking real steps towards inclusivity for individuals with an invisible, poorly-understood disability. The system has some flaws, particularly that the pick up and drop off processes are longer and more complicated than they need to be, but they’ve set a strong baseline and expressed a willingness to continue to improve.
The Mets have not always been considered a fan-friendly organization, but they have joined teams such as the Pirates, Blue Jays, Indians, and many others in welcoming passionate fans with sensory processing difficulties, and that is something to be celebrated.