Fiserv Forum Opens Sensory Rooms

Nov 22, 2019

Sensory rooms are quieter spaces where people can go if they're overwhelmed by crowd noise, light or other stimulation.

They're found in some schools, and other public venues are starting to add them. The Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee now has two sensory rooms. Advocates for people with special needs would like more buildings in southeast Wisconsin to add the spaces.

There's no doubt the Fiserv Forum can crank up the volume, especially during a Milwaukee Bucks game. Just think of player introductions, in-game music, and cheering. So, maybe it's appropriate that the building recently added sensory rooms. 

Fiserv Forum and Bucks officials showed off the spaces Thursday. In one room, measuring 20 feet by 24 feet, Director of Guest Experience Jill Barry played with a fidget toy mounted on the wall. The toy looks like a twisting abacus, complete with beads.

Fidget toys on the wall of a sensory room at Fiserv Forum.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

The room also has soft lights and wall colors, carpeting, a couch, bean bag chairs, a touchable wall hanging, and a sealed bubble wall.

Barry notes the wall has green lights, "As well as calming bubbles. If you listen closely, you'll hear that noise, and all of this can be very soothing to someone who might need that particular resource." 

Overall, a sensory room is designed to give those who are feeling overwhelmed something on which to focus. Sometimes people with autism have those special needs.

Mack Bates' two younger brothers, Justin and Wesley, are on what's known as the autism spectrum. Mack says there are challenges taking his siblings to large buildings.

"The older of my two younger brothers, Justin, he's a wandering risk. So that certainly comes into play from time to time. And sometimes the noise, depending on the level going on, that can be a challenge from time to time, too," Bates said.

Mack, Wesley and Justin Bates (from left) at Fiserv Forum.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Bates says he's glad that Fiserv Forum has added the sensory rooms.

"Ultimately, people with special needs or people with sensory issues, they have wants and dreams and desires like everybody else, and want to be out in the world and interact.  And it's great they have a place they can go, and have those safe spaces. Because they literally do need a safe space. It isn't some joke or insult. They actually do need a space where they can unwind or re-group," Bates said.

Bates says some Milwaukee-area movie theatres have sensory-friendly screenings now and then. But he says it would be nice if those events were more frequent. He also hopes more venues, indoor and outdoor add sensory rooms or spaces.

Gerald Hay, of Independence First, speaks at Thursday's news conference at Fiserv Forum.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Gerald Hay of the Milwaukee access and disability resource center, Independence First, says it's not just people with autism who may have their senses overwhelmed.

"Also, some people with anxiety disorders. PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is another one. Visual limitations — as our eyes change, bright lights. So, glare could be one of these things. Again, how do we look at venues where we can accommodate those needs?" Hay said.

Hay says really, anyone can be affected. He hopes builders and re-modeling companies consider that.

Fiserv Forum officials say 800 staffers have been trained to spot and help people who may need the rooms, or a so-called sensory bag that contains noise-canceling headphones.

The rooms will also be open during concerts, and next July's Democratic National Convention. That's maybe for people who are really excited, or overwhelmed, by hours of political speeches.

Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.

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