Alabama Airport Opens Its First Sensory Room for Passengers with Autism, Anxiety Disorders

Feb 17, 2019

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Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) recently opened the airport’s first sensory room, a space designed for travelers with autism, sensory disorders and anxiety disorders. The inclusive space was launched as a partnership between the airport and Kulture City, a national non-profit organization based in Birmingham. The sensory room is now open and is available to any passenger who may need to use the space.

The rope is cut to open the BHM Airport Sensory Room (Image courtesy of BHM Airport)
The rope is cut to open the BHM Airport Sensory Room (Image courtesy of BHM Airport)

The sensory room was designed and developed between the local branch of the Birmingham-based non-profit and the airport to showcase Birmingham as an inclusive city that can accommodate the needs of all travelers. Kulture City works to ensure that all individuals with autism are accepted in their communities and can live up to their full potential.

Both the airport and Kulture City recognized that air travel can prove especially difficult to travelers with autism and anxiety disorders. In an official press release about the new sensory room, Dr. Julian Maha, founder of Kulture City, commended the airport’s role in launching the sensory room, noting that, “Birmingham Airport has taken a stand to create a travel experience for ALL individuals regardless of their unique abilities.”

“With the hustle and bustle of an airport, many senses are affected, especially kids on the spectrum,” a mother with a 5-year-old on the autism spectrum told The Points Guy. “Noise and crowds [are] a big factor so that’s where these sensory rooms come in. Anyone can come in to a quiet spot, without the bright lights and really calm all senses. It removes all the stimulation that an airport has on someone and helps let them reset, child or adult!”

Image courtesy of BHM Airport
Image courtesy of BHM Airport

Located in Birmingham Airport’s Concourse B, the airport’s new sensory room aims to do just that by removing stimulation and allowing travelers with autism or anxiety the opportunity to escape the challenges and stress of air travel. The space features bean bag chairs, a bubbling water wall, soft lighting, touchable activity panels and textural elements to alleviate anxiety. Although designed for travelers with autism or anxiety and sensory disorders, the room is accessible to all passengers.

“We know that air travel can often be a stressful and overwhelming experience for individuals with autism or other sensory sensitivities,” noted the airport authority’s interim president and CEO, Sylvester Lavender. “The opening of our Sensory Room is one of the ways we’re showing our commitment to all passengers by making time spent at BHM an easy, convenient, comfortable, and calming experience. We hope this new room will aid in breaking down the barriers that can prevent families from flying.”

And Birmingham’s not the only one getting in on the action. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) airport opened a sensory room of its own in partnership with Delta in 2016 and Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) is also in the process of creating a similar space.

This story has been updated to reflect that the Atlanta airport had a similar program in place as of 2016. A prior version of the story had incorrectly reported Birmingham as being the first.

Featured image courtesy of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport

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