Sensory Inclusive Shopping
(New York, NY)—The hustle and bustle of holiday shopping can be sensory overload for children with autism and incredibly stressful for parents. Parent Kpana Kpoto calls for more sensory inclusive stores for kids with autism like the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue in New York.
“Inclusion is the key here. My 11-year-old son Angel* and other individuals with disabilities deserve to be fully integrated into the world around them. This includes being able to visit and shop at a store or participate in a game or concert at an arena,” said Kpana Kpoto, mother and a Senior Family Educator with INCLUDEnyc, offering educational resources to young people with disabilities and their families.
Earlier this year, the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue became the first sensory-inclusive retail store in the world. Parents like Kpoto need more sensory-friendly stores, especially during the holiday season. “Shopping in a crowded store can be overwhelming for many children on the autism spectrum,” Kpoto said.
Kpoto found that the NBA Store was designed with several resources to accommodate her son. Upon entering the store, guests can alert the cashier that they need assistance and are offered a sensory bag, which includes fidget toys, noise-canceling headphones, a feelings chart, “I Need” communication card, and a stress ball. “Shoppers now are able to take home the sensory bag for personal use, which helps a child with a sensory processing disorder navigate New York City during this busy time of year,” Kpoto said.
At the NBA Store, there’s a separate entrance that guests can use when the main entrance becomes too crowded, as well as quiet areas throughout the three-floor retail space to step aside from the hustle and bustle of shopping. From store music to hand dryers in bathrooms, Kpoto also noticed the store’s lower volume levels, which is more comfortable for a child with sensory processing challenges.
In addition, store employees are equipped with the tools to interact and assist individuals and their families with varying disabilities and sensory needs. “If something arises, the staff are trained to provide support—we understand it, and we have a plan in place to make sure that we can help in any way possible,” said Todd Jacobson, NBA’s Senior VP of Social Responsibility.
Across the country, 22 of the 29 NBA arenas, including New York’s Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, have worked with organizations to integrate similar features into their arena operations so kids and families living with sensory needs can enjoy a game without having to worry about the repercussions of having an incident in public.
Jacobson stated, “The goal here is to help raise awareness and to make sure that we as an NBA community continue to look at every touchpoint we have with a fan as well as our employees, and talk through ways we can make our sport more inclusive.”
“Making this store inclusive is an example of equity and access in practice, something we promote and stand by at INCLUDEnyc. I’m not aware of any other sensory inclusive retail stores in New York City. We need more of them, and there are simple accommodations that can make shoppers more comfortable. Stores can be brightly lit, crowded and loud, which can be grating for any shopper and especially intolerable for someone with sensory challenges or who has autism,” Kpoto explained. She also offered some recommendations.
Stores can rely on natural rather than fluorescent lighting, reduce use of perfumes and other store scents, turn off music, block off time during the week for quiet shopping, or create a dedicated space for breaks, including an existing employee break room.
“If your store doesn’t know what to do first, just ask. Engage with your community,” Kpoto recommended. “You might even learn how to make more expansive changes like creating physically accessible stores, innovating universal design products and including people with disabilities in your advertising.”
If parents are seeking sensory-friendly entertainment and programs this holiday season, there are several throughout the city including the sensory room at the Brooklyn Public Library, The YMCA, The Autism Theater Initiative, The New Victory Theater, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History, The Intrepid, and select AMC Theaters.
To learn more about INCLUDEnyc, visit www.includenyc.org.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.