There is plenty of sound at the Museum of Science and Technology in Downtown Syracuse even before visitors arrive. The sounds keep your head on a swivel as you try to locate which sound comes from what exhibit. It’s super interactive and engaging, but also demands a lot of sensory processing.
This can be challenging for children who have sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights. Sometimes even certain colors and fabrics can be bothersome.
Angela Gaige is the former Education Director at the MOST and helps to organize the museum’s sensory friendly time. During these times, the museum lowers the volume, dims the lights and shuts off air compressors so those with sensory challenges can still enjoy their visit.
“I mean I see it as an opportunity for us all to sort of think about and say what is it like to be in somebody else’s shoes,” said Gaige. “It will grow people as individuals, but institutions and communities to think about what other needs are and broaden the opportunities that are available.”
The MOST also offers sensory friendly kits, so access to the museum isn’t restricted just to the designated times. The kits are filled with a variety of things like a mirror, headphones, and a ball.
The bag is not bigger than an average tote and it’s not overly heavy. And the items inside of it do help soothe children, but they aren’t instruments created specifically for that purpose.
Industrial Design Professor Doctor Louise Manfredi had her students at Syracuse University design prototypes specifically for children who have difficulty with light, sound or touch. Some of the projects included a beanie with headphones inside of them and gloves with magnets in the fingertips. Dr. Manfredi even had some of her class attend the sensory friendly nights at the MOST
“They really felt an appreciation for, I guess, the severity of the conditions that some of these children and their parents face,” said Manfredi. “Just to observe and understand how they are seeing the world around them was pretty humbling actually.”
Manfredi says the sensory friendly nights and kits are a good start to inclusive design. But the tools designed specifically for sensory disorders can be expensive. They can range from $50-$80 per item.
The MOST’s accommodations send the message that even though this place isn’t designed specifically for people with sensory disorders, the museum staff is working to make sure those people feel welcome. Manfredi says there is a way to go both in design and empathy building to reach truly inclusive design. But training designers from the beginning to think of everyone and modifying existing spaces to allow more people to enjoy them is a good start.
Correction: In an earlier version of this webstory and in the audio version, Angela Gaige was identified as the MOST's Director of Education. Gaige has since left the position. Emily Stewert is the current Director of Education and Programming at the MOST.