Seattle-Tacoma Opens Sensory Room for Passengers

Seattle-Tacoma Opens Sensory Room for Passengers

On World Autism Awareness Day, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport launched a new Sensory Room for travelers who need a quiet space in the airport. One in 54 children has been identified in the US with an Autism spectrum disorder (CDC Statistics, September 2019) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has reported a 56% increase in the number of requests for assistance for passengers with Autism as of mid-year 2019.

Seattle-Tacoma Sensory Room
The room can be used by passengers of any age seeking a respite from the sights and sounds of the terminal.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is working towards the goal of becoming the most accessible airport in the country. Another step on this journey is the brand new and specially-designed Sensory Room to provide an oasis for travelers who need a break or a space to recover. If you aren’t familiar with the term Sensory Room, it’s because there are only a handful of Sensory Rooms in U.S. airports. Sensory Rooms are specially designed to provide a space where passengers can escape and decompress from a stressful travel experience to calm their bodies through the interaction with carefully selected finishes, lighting, and furniture that reflect the best things about the Pacific Northwest.

The room was specially designed for passengers with Autism and other sensory processing disorder but can be used by passengers of any age seeking a respite from the sights and sounds of the terminal. The SEA Airport room has many intentional features that create a soothing environment:

  • A starlit sky
  • A seating nook to curl up in, a rocking chair, a chair that provides tactile comfort like a hug and large sitting pillows that can be rearranged
  • Artwork from Tacoma-based artist June Sekiguchi titled Serpentine Serenity. An immersive experience implying movement, free flowing water patterns in shades of blue offer a calming focus for the viewer. For Sekiguchi, water is essential sustenance and a purifier cleansing the soul
  • Acoustic panels to dampen sound inside and outside the room

The Sensory room is located after security on the A Train Station level, in the hall near the elevator. The easiest way to get there is to take the elevator across from the Starbucks near Gate A3, from the concourse level to the Train level. The Sensory Room and Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Room are a short walk down the hall towards the train platform.

Seattle-Tacoma Sensory Room
A starlit sky for a soothing environment.

Outside the sensory room is a temporary art exhibit that further showcases the work of artists June Sekiguchi and Weston Lambert, who have permanent works within the Meditation and Interfaith Prayer and Sensory Room. The new art cases will feature rotating temporary works of local artists and currently include a range of three-dimensional pieces by both artists.

After going through the security checkpoint, look for this wayfinding symbol that was developed specifically for the Sensory Room based on research of existing symbols used by other organizations. The symbol was reviewed by internal and external stakeholders including Open Doors Organization, The Arc of King County, and Seattle Therapy Network therapists.  It was chosen because it reflected love and inclusivity and was received with overwhelming response and support by the stakeholders.

Seattle-Tacoma Sensory Room
The Sensory room is located after security on the A Train Station level.

The Port of Seattle worked with multiple community stakeholders to design the space.  To gather input during the design process, the Port reached out to other airports with Sensory Rooms, met with parents of children with autism, and consulted with occupational therapists who specialize in these conditions.

CEO, Seattle Therapy Network, Carey Goldenberg, said:

“As an occupational therapist with over 20 years of experience in supporting individuals with sensory processing challenges and with advanced certification in Sensory Integration, I am beyond excited to see SEA Airport become a more welcoming and neurodiverse space. When everyone is included in design, it decreases barriers and improves the ability for all people to live their lives to the fullest!”

The Port of Seattle, through this project, is expanding access for all individuals to have a positive interaction with the airport and feel included and valued as travelers. A sensory room creates an opportunity to help neurodiverse individuals to feel a sense of belonging in this public space. It would offer them (and their families, companions, and caregivers) the ability to regulate and manage the demands of air travel, calm their sensory systems between flights, and have a quiet, sensory friendly way to find respite in an environment that is well known for being loud, busy, unpredictable, and visually overwhelming.

Seattle-Tacoma Sensory Room
Large seating pillows can be rearranged.
Board of Directors, The Arc of King County; Program manager, Wings for Autism Program, Stacia Gallaher Irons, said:

“The new Sensory Room at the airport will make a huge difference in the lives of those travelling with autism, dementia, and other sensory processing and anxiety disorders, their families and all air travelers. The space is designed to allow individuals who have become over-stimulated by the environment the chance to calm down and decompress before boarding a flight. Having a quiet space with soothing light, calming colors and an opportunity for proprioceptive input (interactive pushing, pulling, lifting) will relax the over-stimulated nervous system, allowing that individual the opportunity to reset prior to the rest of their trip. This room will be utilized by all ages, as sensory processing disorders can occur across the lifespan. Parents and travel companions could plan their trip with this room in mind, as a destination safe spot prior to departure and on their return from their destination. Airport, airline and TSA employees would now have a calming place they could share with passengers, to assist those in need of respite. The Sensory Room at Seattle- Tacoma International Airport is a welcome addition to all and we cannot wait to share this with our families.”

The Sensory Room is another example of how Seattle-Tacoma International Airport supports the diversity of passengers traveling through the airport every year.

This article was originally published by the Port of Seattle.

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