Jack Mulholland

Sensory Spaces

Presenter: Jack Mulholland, Metroaccess Officer, Maroondah City Council

Oral Presentation

Australian Building Standards for accessibility of the built environment for people with a disability focus on people who use wheelchairs; access and facilities for people with ambulatory disabilities; and access for people with hearing or vision impairments.  The standards do not include neurodiverse conditions such as autism, ADHD, and other cognitive conditions. Australian Building Standards continue to lag behind changes in society where we find buildings that may be accessible for one disability but not accessible for another.  A universal design approach ensures buildings are accessible for all, thus meeting all the community needs.

Recently there has been a significant increase in people diagnosed with autism, as highlighted by the NDIS where 30% of approved plans are for people with autism.  Autism can include sensory overload where every sense is heightened; every noise, colour and movement is intensified. As a result, both individuals and families can find places such as shopping centres, sporting stadiums, airports, and other public spaces extremely challenging.

Places that require walking through crowds, interacting with people and undergoing instructions, can be highly stressful for people with Autism. Sensory spaces are being introduced to the built environment allowing families to shop free of anxiety, attend football matches as a family, and to experience travel for the first time. For these places a sensory room offers a quiet space to reduce anxiety and over-stimulation with access to sensory soothing items in an environment free of smell and bright lights.

These rooms also create a safe environment for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder who can also experience sensory overload. People with dementia can also find an environment that encourages sensory stimulation.

This presentation will highlight the community need, the solution, and various design approaches relevant to the building usage or purpose.  It will also highlight the progress made not only in Australia but across the globe and highlight some case studies of best practice in developing a sensory space.