Dr. Daniela Ferdico is a neurodiverse neuropsychologist who specializes in neurodevelopmetal disorders such as Autism & ADHD, Izzi Ferdico is a student, aspiring video game designer, and co-founder of Sensory Access, a non-profit organisation that offers advice on how to curate accessible public events for people with sensory processing difficulties such as Down Syndrome, Fragile X, and other Sensory Processing Difficulties.

Direct Access had the pleasure of collaborating with Daniela and the Sensory Access team at Expo 2020 Dubai, working to create quiet rooms and deliver sensory cards to aid navigation for those with sensory processing differences and to enjoy the world expo to their fullest extent.

More recently, we collaborated with Sensory Access to deliver accessibility for Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, a Welsh Government sponsored body that comprises seven museums in Wales focusing on art and science exhibitions as well as interactive experiences and talks. Combined, the seven national museums in the Amgueddfa Cymru family attract visitors in excess of 1.9 million people any given year.

Other topics included in the podcast includes creating sensory accessibility to prepare audiences for one-time events such as Concerts and Festivals, as well as how we can create more accessible museums, including our collaborative work at National Museum Wales.

Dr. Daniela and Izzi also discuss their work for huge festivals such as Lollapalooza and the feedback her team has recieved from businesses who work to implement sensory accessibility measures.



Dr Daniela and Izzi Ferdico (Sensory Access), hosted by Michael Miller (Direct Access).

Michael: [00:00:00] So what accessibility issues are presented by the majority of concert venues, museums and theaters?

Dr. Daniela: [00:00:07] So I can take kind of museums and then maybe you want to talk about concerts a little bit. So I would say there’s a lot of different things to think about. I think sometimes people think, Oh, it’s a museum. It must be sensory friendly or sensory accessible because it’s a quiet place meant to showcase art or whatever that particular museum is showing. I don’t think people think about the acoustics as an example of a museum. Most museums you walk in and there’s a big grand lobby made out of hard surfaces like marble. You don’t think about how the acoustics in that space might affect those that have sensory differences, or even someone that’s hard of hearing where it’s really hard to figure out what people are saying because the sound is bouncing around. So if you have, for example, where you need to buy your tickets or where you need to communicate with other people in a place where the acoustics are difficult, that creates a problem. So just really thinking about even just from the minute you walk into a space, what’s that experience like for people who process sound and visuals differently? And then, of course, you get to the whole experience of a museum. The navigation is the wayfinding very clear. Are there spaces where you can get away and have quiet moments if there are exhibits that are really, really overwhelming? Right.

Dr. Daniela: [00:01:26] We would just add a museum in Los Angeles this week, and there are lots of places where you can kind of pull to the side and take a little breather there. It was an outside patio where you could go and just take in the view and get away from whatever was going on inside the museum, whether you were getting overwhelmed by the content or by the presentation of that content. And so those kinds of things make a museum space more accessible. And that’s not often something that’s considered when you’re building a space to showcase art or any kind of presentation. So what would you say about concerts and theaters?

Izzi: [00:02:01] Well, concerts and theaters have different things. They’re kind of similar in the way that they’re both kind of on a stage. And so with that, you get they have the lighting, which is usually worse at concerts. And there’s lights can be flashing. Sometimes there’s fog effects. The sound is usually the main thing. Obviously at a concert especially, but also at a theater, it can be really, really loud and it can be kind of unexpectedly loud throughout different moments throughout the show. And then at a concert specifically, if you’re in a standing room floor, you’re dealing with a lot of people all kind of pressed against you. And so that can be really tough for anyone who has any touch sensitivities.

Dr. Daniela: [00:02:45] And I think what makes something like that more accessible. I think, again, trying to not assume what a concertgoer may want. So a lot of times if we approach a concert venue and say, hey, we have someone that has some sensory differences and wants to go to this concert, it’s usually offered like, Oh, well, they can sit in the disabled seating up in the third nosebleed section and then we have to go back. Well, no, this particular person actually really wants to be in that general admission crowd. They just need some accommodations. In order to be able to do that safely, they need to be able to hold on to something so they feel steady. They need to be able to be closer to the stage so they can see the performer and lip read or whatever their particular accommodation may be. And there’s this assumption that like if you have any kind of disability, you immediately need to have a spot far away or, you know, in a certain section, and that’s not appropriate for different kinds of disabilities. So I think we have to stop thinking that disability means one thing and accommodations mean one thing. There are lots of ways to make even loud, bright, kind of chaotic experiences, like a concert accessible if we take the time to think about what that individual person needs.

Michael: [00:03:56] So as you alluded to, that it’s not a case of one size fits all, but what makes a concert accessible for guests from a sensory perspective? Just some of the basics, I suppose.

Dr. Daniela: [00:04:09] And even they’re thinking about before. So a lot of the concerts these days that are really popular concerts, individuals will line up before the show, either the morning of or sometimes even the night before, outside in line. And that’s something that’s difficult for some individuals, right, that’s standing in line and that touching or, you know, that crowding and lots of people waiting to get in the doors and not knowing when the doors are going to open. All of that can cause a lot of difficulty. So just working with a venue to kind of see how can we accommodate this person that struggles with waiting in lines or lots of crowding? Can we just get them in one minute before everyone else gets in? Or can we have a place on the floor that’s for people that have disabilities? So for example, one of the venues we work with in all of their general admission concerts, now they have a smaller section to the right hand side that has room in the very front, that has room in the very back. You can decide where you want to be within that space. There’s only so many people and it’s all people that have either an obvious or a hidden disability that can be in that space.

Dr. Daniela: [00:05:09] So that allows them to have free movement just like anybody else that’s in a general admission area. But it’s a little bit more of a protected area so that they don’t have to deal with some of the crowding that comes along with general admission. So they get to have the same equitable access to the stage and to the artist. And I think that’s what’s often forgotten, especially with concert, is that equitable access that someone in a wheelchair, for example, doesn’t necessarily again want to sit up in the wheelchair section. They may want to sit on the floor. They have the right to set on the general admission floor and they have the right to have clear sightlines to the artist. So that might mean they need to be slightly off to the side or somewhere up front that they can’t be in the middle of the general admission floor because then they don’t have any sightlines, because now they’re just looking at everybody lowers back because everybody else is standing right. So thinking about how do we accommodate different types of people, different ways of interacting with your built environment, depending on your abilities of your body and your brain and how it processes sensory information.

Michael: [00:06:06] So that’s some examples of how it benefits people with certain needs. I think with theatres, concerts, museums like all together, like public spaces, venues. How does sensory accessibility benefit them, would you say?

Dr. Daniela: [00:06:23] I mean, I think the thing that we’ve found over time is the number one thing is information ahead of time, right? So we don’t go into any of these venues or cultural experiences saying, oh, you have to completely change how you’re presenting your art, right? Whether it’s the architecture or the music or how something is presented, it’s not about changing it or muting it. It’s more about, okay, we’re going to figure out exactly what this experience is like from the guest point of view so that we can then let the guests know ahead of time. So a good example is our sensory waiting cards, right where we bring a team through and we kind of rate everything, the visual, the audio, if there’s any scent, if the floor is moving or vibrating, all of those kinds of things that might impact neurodivergent individuals. And that way they can see that information ahead of time and they can now prepare and they can bring whatever accommodation they need in order to make it through that experience, not only safely, but to enjoy that experience alongside their community, with their friends. And we found overall, if there’s anything that makes the biggest difference, it’s that having that information ahead of time and being able to prepare and having the information be really specific.

Dr. Daniela: [00:07:34] One of the things I see a lot is on an entire theater show or a concert, you know, a warning, there’s strobe lighting in this performance. So if you have epilepsy, take care. Well, that’s great. But that basically just prevents anyone from epilepsy from going because there is just this label on the event that says there is some strobing somewhere at some point that’s not inclusive. What’s inclusive is saying, you know, 32 minutes in, there is 30 seconds of strobe lighting. So now the individuals can say, okay, 32 minutes and well, maybe 30 minutes in. I put my dark glasses on and I prepare myself or I leave the room and then I come back in 5 minutes later. So now I’ve only missed that portion that might affect me, but I’ve not been barred from the entire event because someone didn’t take the time to figure out when that was and when I needed to have that moment of preparing myself. Right? So it’s really about making information specific and not just saying this is a really loud experience or, you know, this is really this and not being specific about it because at the end of the day, all you’re doing then is excluding people more.

Michael: [00:08:37] And a lot of what you’re saying, just letting people know information in advance isn’t that costly, really, is it? That would be my next question. Like how costly is it to implement sensory accessibility in each of these venues individually? I’d imagine like concerts, maybe slightly more than others? I don’t know.

Dr. Daniela: [00:08:55] It just depends on what people want. So for a sensory rating card, it’s really just paying a team for their time. So for example, with our company, there’s a team of individuals that are neurodivergent, either autistic or sensory sensitive, that go in and experience it, take that data, create a sensory rating card so you’re just paying for that time. If you have a venue that wants to train all their staff and how to support neurodivergent individuals, how to implement any kinds of tools like having sensory kits available, then of course there’s those pieces. But overall, it’s certainly a lot less expensive than putting in ramps or putting in different kinds of things. Out of all the different accessibility changes that we’ve all made to venues over time, it isn’t a very expensive option, especially when you think about the inclusion that you’re creating and the customers that you’re now able to include, right? The value, the financial value alone of those customers way outweighs any financial output.

Michael: [00:09:54] So for theaters and concert venues, because I know you’ve worked with some like Lollapalooza. When you’ve included like sensory rating information, what have the results been of that? Have you had feedback from them?

Dr. Daniela: [00:10:07] Absolutely. Would you want to talk a bit about Lollapalooza or music festivals and what we usually do there instead of sensory reading cards?

Izzi: [00:10:13] Yeah. So at a music festival or concert, it’s a little bit different because like for a theater show, we could go and preview it and then come up with a social story and a sensory rating card based on that preview. But for a music festival or a concert, everything happens once, and it happens in the moment. So you can’t really like predict it. So what we do is at Lollapalooza, for example, and a couple others, we have usually an area or a tent that’s kind of a space where people can come to kind of calm down. So we’ll have beanbags and fidgets. And it’s just like a designated area for anyone who wants to kind of get away from the business and like the volume of the festival. And then we can also provide support at the stages by kind of being up with security and if anyone needs help. For example, if someone’s non-verbal and they need to get out of the crowd and the security will take them out, but then they can’t communicate. So then we can provide communication cards so that they can communicate.

Dr. Daniela: [00:11:17] Yeah, I think those are the two biggest things is again, having some support at a place like that that’s so chaotic and so loud and it’s more difficult to get away from some of those sensory aspects, but having a clearly marked space. So depending on the different types of festivals right now, we’re working on one here in the Seattle area for the summer and we have both an interior sensory space, we have tents set up where people can go in and just relax and sit in a beanbag and put headphones on and get away from the noise.

Dr. Daniela: [00:11:47] And then when they’ve kind of reset their sensory system, they can go back out and enjoy the different stages. Again, there’s support at the stages that they need, and just having that kind of ability to get away means that you can have loud, bright, chaotic environments as long as you provide that refuge. And we found especially like at Lollapalooza, which gets so crowded that it’s not only autistic or neurodivergent people that use our areas, we get so much feedback from like, Oh, can I come in here? I just need to take a break for a minute to kind of get away from everything. It’s so overwhelming. It’s overwhelming for a lot of people. Right? And so there’s no reason to not have those spaces. There’s always a space where you can put in some beanbags and put on some ear headphones and have fidgets. That’s not a difficult thing to set up and it makes such a difference and we get so much feedback. People saying this is the first time I’ve been able to go to a music festival. This is the first time I’ve been able to see my favourite artists that I listen to every day live with my community. Like that makes a big difference. It allows you to enjoy those experiences with your community, which is how they’re meant to be experienced. It’s very different from listening to something in your apartment by yourself to being in a whole space with other people who are all dancing to the music and singing the lyrics. It’s an incredible, inclusive feeling. So we want to actually be inclusive and get everyone to be able to have that experience.

Michael: [00:13:11] Yeah, it’s interesting because in music festivals, when they first came back here last year in the wake of COVID, I noticed that obviously hygiene took a precedent and I think now more than ever I’ve noticed like more of a trend towards creating accessibility, both in terms of not just mobility but sensory. So I guess the question would be like, how much do you think the pandemic had an effect on this like ongoing trend now?

Dr. Daniela: [00:13:39] I would say quite a bit, right. I mean, I feel like before the pandemic, we still had to fight quite a bit, you know, even at the bigger music festivals, like, you know, our accessibility is important to that. It’s not just about this accessibility and that, that there are difficulties that neurodivergent individuals experience and that that accessibility is important. Now people are coming to us and saying like, Hey, we hear that you do accessibility for this. We really want you to be a part of this festival or this experience. And that’s, I think, just been over the last few years where people are actually saying, like, okay, we realize now that this is something that’s necessary versus us having to say this is really, really needed. And also during the pandemic, like these experiences were taken away from everyone. So everyone had to experience what it’s like to want to go to a music festival or a museum or whatever and not be able to. And so I think that created a lot more empathy for people who wouldn’t be able to go to it no matter what, and kind of inspired people to make their events more accessible because they know what it feels like to not be able to do it. Excellent point. Yeah.

Michael: [00:14:48] It’s become would you say it’s become a lot more important to these the public image of a lot of these organizations now that they have to kind of include it now because so many others have started. That makes sense to do that.

Dr. Daniela: [00:14:59] I think it’s a mix of both of kind of that empathy that’s now inherent in people because they also had it taken away from them. And now it’s like, oh, wait, like, I really need that feeling, I need that experience. I need to be able to get away from the daily stress and go have that outlet. And now that some of the bigger companies are doing that work, I think that makes way and sets an example. And so that’s sometimes why we also push some of these bigger companies to say, you know what, if you take the first step and you create this accessibility, then it kind of sets the way for other companies to do it as well. So that’s finally kind of beginning to happen.

Michael: [00:15:37] I guess the question to both of you for separate things, a theater or a museum or a concert venue, how do you carry out sensory accessibility audits of both of these different things? Is there differences? What are the commonalities?

Izzi: [00:15:53] Well, we don’t really do audits of the concerts because it is kind of like a one time in the moment experience. You can’t really audit it. So what we do at the concerts more is we’ll kind of have like maybe a blanket kind of social story for the venue because that will always do the same. You go in here, you give them your ticket. But for the actual individual events, we’re more there just to provide support. And so we can speak with the venue beforehand and we can have kind of a designated quiet area and we can have headphones available and fidgets available and we’re we’ll someone will be there to kind of be near the crowd. So if someone needs help, if they need to be escorted to the quiet area, if they need to communicate and they’re nonverbal, we can provide that support. But it’s you can’t really do an audit of it since it is kind of just like it happens then it’s done. We have been talking a little bit more with artists themselves, especially if there’s like a whole tour that a band or artist is going on tour, meeting with them ahead of time and saying, okay, you know, we’re going to be your accessibility consultant for this tour. And if anybody reaches out to the band for you know, “I’m in a wheelchair or I’m hard of hearing or I’m autistic, I want to come to the show, how do I do that?” Then we can work with the band in the venues to make those things happen.

Dr. Daniela: [00:17:13] We can find out like, Hey, yes, there is pyrotechnics during this part of an outdoor show, or there is something that, whatever it may be, that might be a little bit unexpected during a show. So we can let people know ahead of time. So we have started doing a little bit of that kind of preview, which is really nice because I feel like when we work with the artists directly, they have a little bit more push than the venues. They’re a little bit more willing to implement things that they really want to be there for their fans and they want to include all of their fans. So I think that’s something that if that begins to happen more and more, then we’re also going to be able to create easier and better accessibility because of the power that the artist has when they go to different venues. So I think that piece is really exciting. And then museums, those are a lot more you know, there’s a little bit of dynamic change of exhibits sometimes. So typically what we’ll do is we’ll tour a museum for the first time and we’ll create a “social narrative”. So that’s what Izzy was describing. This is what the front door looks like. And when you walk in, you go, here’s the front desk. And they kind of beep. Beeping sound is made when they kind of sign in your ticket. And then you go here and this is the general flow.

Dr. Daniela: [00:18:25] This is how many exhibitions they are. If there’s any exhibitions that always are there, then we describe those in detail. And then we either allow the venue to change what that document says over time, if there’s different exhibits or they ask us to come back and we go through and do that. And so there’s a social narrative that’s kind of for the overall museum. And then we create the sensory reading cards that we’ve described for each of the different exhibits. So you have this exhibit over here and this is what this is like, and this one over here is more immersive and has lots of sound and is in a small space. So here’s a sensor rating card for this. And so then of course, those get updated as exhibits change. And that’s again a really nice way to have an overall like, this is how I get there, and this is my overall experience. But here’s the very specific sensory impact that I might experience in these different things. So again, I might choose to avoid this one because it’s just not going to be something that I know my sensory system deals with really well, but I can enjoy all the others. And it’s not this blanket statement of like, Oh, you know, this is a really immersive, futuristic museum, so just avoid it because of that, that is not inclusive, right? We want to be as specific as possible so we can allow people to make decisions for themselves.

Michael: [00:19:33] And what brought Sensory Access and Direct Access together to kind of work on these museums. And just in general what resulted as of this collaboration because last time we talked, I think it was kind of just new. I think.

Dr. Daniela: [00:19:47] Yeah, yeah. I mean, so I think the first time we worked together with Direct Access was at Expo 2020 and working on such a huge scope, working on such a global event, I think we really called on each other’s expertise because we have different areas of expertise. So together we really have this great kind of knowledge of all the different kinds of accessibility that is needed and applying that knowledge to new and novel things, right? A world pavilion that has a rotating vibrating stage that is meant to feel like you’re flying on a drone. Like that’s not something that we had ever rated before. Right. And I’m sure it was the same for direct access. Like, how do we make that accessible for individuals that are hard of hearing or in a wheelchair? So I think it was really interesting to kind of work together. And I’m coming from this perspective and how the brain processes information and direct access as a long history of creating accessibility and museums and all sorts of different places. And so I think now that we’re beginning to work together on some of these museums, it’s the same idea. You know, museums aren’t. Painting on a wall. Museums are beginning to be really dynamic and can have all sorts of immersive exhibits or experiences that are interactive. And so being able to utilize the kind of expertise that we all have in working together creates this great overall accessibility piece for museums.

Michael: [00:21:11] Wordy question now. So in the in the UK this summer, we’ve got a new BSE standard being passed. I think I talked to you about it, Daniella. It’s pertaining to neurodiversity, accessibility specifically. So I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this guidance because I think you had some correspondence about like with it being implemented in the first place, I think you said so. Do you expect this to impact like theatre and museums and concert venues unaware of the umbrella range of accessibility types?

Dr. Daniela: [00:21:40] I hope so. You know, I know that here in the States we have the ADA laws and it’s the bare minimum of what you have to meet and it doesn’t even touch on neurodiversity. It’s just now beginning to talk about web accessibility, for example. And so I’m hoping that this new standard in the UK really pushes accessibility for more than just mobility and and visual and hearing that we start thinking about how brains process sensory information and that those things are implemented. I know I had some like, like you said some questions that I answered for individuals that were putting that document together about what’s a sensory room, what’s a quiet room, what’s the difference, what do we have to have in each? And just really delineating that very clearly, because when you get to any area where there’s not a lot of knowledge, whether it’s accessibility or anything else, a lot of words get used interchangeably. And so sensory room and quiet room get used interchangeably quite a bit and they are very different, right. And so, you know, implementing that and putting that into a document and bringing that out in the UK, I’m hoping is going to make a huge difference for how we create experiences and what kind of refuge or accommodations we create in different spaces.

Michael: [00:22:55] But you do think that because a lot of people, when they design anything, whether it’s a building or an environment, they kind of go for the average and that’s the kind of person we go for. Whereas if you just if you address fringe cases, then that means you’re going to be inclusive of literally everybody.

Dr. Daniela: [00:23:12] I kind of always go back to that idea of universal design. If we create something for if we put in a ramp as an example, that’s next to a staircase and it’s curved and it’s beautiful. Everybody benefits from that. The person that struggles with their knees because they’re older, the mom with the stroller, the person in a wheelchair, the person with a cane. It’s not just all about the picture we get in our head like, oh, ramps are for wheelchairs, right? If we create an environment where it’s easy to hear the acoustics visually, the information is presented in a clear way, and we know what we’re getting into ahead of time. That’s good for everyone. That’s not just good for autistic individuals. Right? And so it’s that idea of how can we create something that tells the story that we’re trying to tell if we’re a storyteller and trying to create an experience for our guest, but do that in a very curated way and take into mind the architecture, the acoustics, the knowledge. I mean, we have knowledge now, we know how our brains process sensory information. We now just need to apply that to how we invite guests to experience the things that we’re trying to create for them. And, you know, making something accessible doesn’t need to take away from the original experience. It often will just add to it if it’s done well. Like, for example, if a different museum implements more signs to make it clearer where to go or implement a sensory room or quiet room, that’s not going to change or impact the original experience, but it’s going to benefit everybody. So I think sometimes people think that, oh, if I have to make my experience accessible, it means I have to take away all the cool stuff or all the cool effects, which is not necessarily true. You just need to have that preparation and so people can know what they’re getting into ahead of time so it can still be the same or a better experience.

Michael: [00:25:10] So what examples of that could you apply to concert and festival events where something is put in implemented for accessibility but benefits everybody?

Izzi: [00:25:21] Kind of like that same area we were talking about earlier at Lollapalooza where we had that tent that was just kind of a quiet area that people could come to that was open to anybody. And of course that benefits everybody. It doesn’t take away from anyone’s experience, and it’s a resource that’s beneficial for everybody and is open to everybody. And so it’s just kind of like an added benefit that everyone can enjoy.

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