As many of our campuses are all in the rhythm of the semester, let’s explore what is being done or could be done to support inclusive opportunities throughout the many outstanding and engaging events on campus. College campuses are ripe with activity – live performances, sporting events, invited speakers, concerts, festivals, volunteer events – how do these events support neurodivergent and physically disabled individuals? Can we elevate some opportunities to be more inclusive?

A photo of a boy with glasses wearing a blue jersey reaching up with flag toward a large billboard of a bull with eyes lit up and smoke coming from nose.
The sensory zone at the Durham Bulls Baseball Stadium.

Do you have a sensory room at sporting events? Often individuals could use a sensory break in large sporting venues to reorganize their body and support them being there for the whole event. Many venues have a sensory room (Athletic Business 2020) or sensory kits (Flynn 2022) to support participation and inclusion. A small room with calming music, soft lighting, cozy chairs or bean bags, yoga mats, meditation pillows can be a great support to families and individuals with sensory support needs. Often just 5-10 minutes in this space can support an individual returning to the event. This isn’t a space behind a screen, but often a room with sound dampening. Sporting events have lots of sounds and lights, so a space where these are dampened is easy to set up and tremendously valuable to the neurodiverse community. Do you have a space in your sporting venues? Is there a space that could be used for this?

Sensory support performances are also often used in performing arts events and movie or documentary viewing. Can a sensory supportive time be offered to the community? This could be one of the final rehearsals, or a performance in an alternate time slot. You can often find a sensory seating, which has the lights at a low setting, the volume turned down, and the climate such that kids can be talking or individuals stimming without disrupting the event. Many movie theaters offer sensory-friendly seating times, and more and more live performances open a rehearsal for a sensory-friendly viewing time. What might be some ways to support these opportunities on your campus? How do you advertise and make the community aware of these opportunities?

Are your invited campus speakers accessible to people in our community with visual and hearing impairments? Is there a ASL interpreter, closed captioning on slides, and are speakers given instructions on how to build visual materials that can be viewable for the spaces used? Does your campus have ASL classes where students could be integrated into supporting these needs? Are the avenues to integrate these supports into an event clear and easy to navigate? Can events offer up nights that highlight a disability culture (e.g., deaf culture night)?

Having fun creating these spaces can lead to a better experience for all attending. Including students in the development and implementation prepares them for their careers and communities. More and more of the largest venues are including sensory-friendly options and resources. Some great examples I have seen of inclusive spaces and resources have been at athletic venues with sensory maps, sensory kits, signage, and communication that it is available (Durham Bull Sensory Guide; NCAA Tips for Campus; Clemson Sensory Inclusive). I have also found live performance venues do a nice job of advertising and educating participants about sensory-friendly shows (Kennedy Center; Lincoln Center). These are two models: one with spaces for accommodations during an event for all and one with a special time slot to meet the needs of participants with sensory accommodations. These venues pick a format that applies to their venue and event. For participants who need these resources it can be the difference between attending or not, but it also models representation, inclusion, and kindness.

As you consider ways to incorporate sensory-friendly settings and opportunities, continue to maintain a lens to inclusive practices that support our community with disabilities more broadly. Identify clearly where people with physical disabilities can find spaces to engage in an inclusive and welcoming manner. As we more seamlessly practice accommodating, we build spaces and opportunities to open our events and venues to all . . . and when we think of “all” I sincerely hope we appreciate what “all” brings to our spaces.

Here are some great articles highlighting how many in our communities are expanding inclusivity across a variety of events and venues and how the benefits extend beyond the targeted population.


Athletic Business. 2020. “How Sporting Venues Are Designing to Support Those with Sensory Needs.” June 16, 2020.

AWS Foundation. 2020. “Creating an Inclusive and Sensory Friendly Community: AWS Foundation Updates.” AWS Foundation, June 27, 2019.

Flynn, Henry. 2022. “Real Betis Sets a Welcome Example, Offering Sensory Kits to Fans with Autism.” Forbes, May 13, 2022.

Zoning, Creativity Zone, CETL, University of Brighton” by jisc_infonet is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Caroline J. Ketcham is a professor of exercise science at Elon University, and she is the 2021-2023 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Ketcham’s CEL scholar project focuses on equity in high-impact practices (HIPs) for neurodiverse and physically disabled student populations.

How to Cite This Post

Ketcham, Caroline J. 2022. “Ableism in Academia: Spotlighting Inclusive Opportunities” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. October 25, 2022.