Creating an Inclusive and Sensory Friendly Community

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Did you know that we have some amazing organizations in Northeast Indiana who have been actively providing and creating sensory friendly environments? A sensory friendly environment is one that offers accommodations for auditory, visual and olfactory stimulation. Many sensory friendly spaces and places also accommodate communication and social/emotional needs of individuals of all ages and all abilities. Communities are learning that many environments that, at one time would not have seemed like a good fit for some individuals with disabilities, can be welcoming, enriching, and accessible for all.

In Northeast Indiana, sensory friendly environments come in many shapes and forms, ranging from Special Abilities Days at Science Central and McMillan Health, to sensory fanny packs at the Greater Fort Wayne YMCA, to sensory friendly performance at The Civic Theatre and the Fort Wayne Ballet and everything in between. AWS Foundation is working on posting all of these amazing opportunities on our website and Facebook page, so stay tuned.

As we have had the honor to work with organizations who are taking into consideration the needs of individuals who might have sensory needs, we decided to try something new. On June 4, we brought together 30 individuals representing 10 different organizations in NE Indiana who are either currently, or in the planning stage, of building more inclusive environments. These incredibly busy folks gave up 2.5 hours to learn with us about best practices in creating both inclusive and sensory friendly environments.

The group was joined by a team from the Wabash Miami Area Program, including an occupational therapist, physical therapist and autism leader. In addition, AWS Foundation staff shared some collective knowledge and experiences to support moving the bar forward in supporting all individuals in our community environments.

In response to learning more about what 3D technology can offer to both those with tactile sensory needs and those with vision needs, Cole Finney from Science Central shared the following: I was inspired by the discussion we had at the meeting. I am beyond excited about the idea of bringing 3D-printing technology to Science Central to better present the many textures of our reptiles.

Rebekah Coffey from the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne is already implementing strategies and using tools she learned during the session. In response to a “make and take” portion of the meeting, Rebekah shared that she is already showing off the universal flash cards at the Y. She has also been discussing another tool that was shared using visual schedules for children during transitions. Rebekah told us, I have had feedback from parents about how a visual schedule assists with their childs transitions and I feel more confident in providing this resource.

One of the most important outcomes of the day was being in a collaborative environment and hearing from the many organizations who are offering programs and addressing sensory needs. Learning from each other is critical as we move to becoming a more inclusive and sensory friendly community.

Now that you know, additional meetings are being planned to take place quarterly. If you work for an organization who would like to get involved with this collaborative, please email Joni Schmalzried at