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Asheville Tourists join growing number of organizations making events more accessible

A shot from the stands at McCormick Field in Asheville from behind home plate showing a batter waiting for the pitch.
Steve Busey
Lights, fireworks, crowd noises and loud music at games can be overstimulating. Sensory kits with ear plugs, sunglasses and toys can help baseball fans with sensitivities.

Have you experienced any sensory-friendly events? What would you like to see to make community events and other spaces more inclusive? Share your feedback by email or voice memo at voices@bpr.org.

From theaters and art centers to libraries and museums, a growing number of organizations are working to make public events more inclusive. Some are creating sensory-friendly environments. For example, movie theaters that offer showings where the lights stay on and the sound is lowered. The Charlotte-Concord Aquarium has special days where the space is adjusted to reduce sensory triggers, and the Childrens’ Theater also offers sensory-inclusive performances.

On the local scale, Vaya Health partnered with the Asheville Tourists to roll out single-use sensory kits earlier this month.

For someone with sensory sensitivity, everything can feel louder and brighter. That means for a person who is sensitive to noise, the cheering of fans and explosion of fireworks at the end of the game could be extremely overstimulating. Add in the field lights when it gets dark, and the bright lights from the fireworks and it's a sensory overload.

The sensory kits available at Tourists games include noise-cancelling earplugs, sunglasses, and fidget toys. The earplugs block out excess noise from the game, the sunglasses help with the bright stadium, and the fidget toys assist in emotional and physical regulation.

Vaya Health manages public funding for services and supports related to mental health care, substance use disorder, and disabilities. The organization introduced the sensory kits at the start of Disability Pride Month.

Allison Inman, the organization’s director of brand strategy and communications, says she approached the team about the idea a few years ago after seeing something similar in South Carolina.

“It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that,” said Inman, “I thought it was a fantastic idea.”

The Tourists welcomed this project, which finally got underway this month after delays from the pandemic.

“The more inclusive events are the better it is for a community. When we all can enjoy an event, we all benefit from that,” said Inman. “I think that’s a really important part of what Asheville is, what Asheville represents.”

The kits are available upon request at the McCormick Field service window near the box office for the remainder of the baseball season. Vaya Health says its hoping to expand this initiative and find more partners in the 31 counties it serves.

Charlie Smith is a senior at UNC-Asheville, graduating in August 2022 with BA in Creative Writing, specializing in creative non-fiction.