How hotels cater to guests with sensory issues
How hotels cater to guests with sensory issues
21 MAY 2020 8:45 AM

To provide a better experience for guests with sensory issues, hotels are training their staff on how to help these guests and are offering sensory kits, calming rooms and more.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Some hotels are doing more to cater to guests with sensory processing disorders by adding on amenities and training their staff, sources said.

Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in Sandusky, Ohio, started offering a sensory-friendly calming room, sensory kits, comfort kits and safety kits in February, resort GM Brian Shanle said via email.

The kits are available to help reduce overstimulation for guests who experience sensory issues and include communication boards for nonverbal guests, noise-canceling headphones and fidget gadgets, he said.

Sensory-friendly offerings also expand to safety kits and the hotel’s culinary efforts, Shanle said. Outlet covers, motion-detector door alarms and soft ice packs provide some comforts of home to guests, and resort chefs are trained to assist guests with food allergies and food-related sensory issues, he added.

Shanle said he started researching training and certification for his hotel to better accommodate guests with sensory issues about six months ago and landed on working with Sensory City, an organization that provides training and certification for sensory-friendly options to hotels.

“As a father of five, I know the challenge of family travel with a child on the autism spectrum, so it is a passion of mine to be able to provide this resource for families who are enjoying precious time together,” he said.

Sensory City
All hotels comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards and accommodations for people with physical disabilities, but Sensory City’s mission is to make hotel spaces more accessible for those guests with “invisible disabilities” or “disabilities that are less physical but not less important,” said Tanya Acosta, executive director at the nonprofit organization.

Kalahari was the first hotel in the Midwest to become sensory certified by the organization, which means the hotel’s staff received training on sensory issues, she said.

Acosta said staff learn about sensory issues, addressing things like “who presents with them? What they look like? What does it mean if somebody has autism and they are stimming? What does it look like when somebody has a sensory meltdown? How is that different from a tantrum?”

The goal is to increase awareness with staff to reduce judgement, she said.

“Take that and put it on the shoulders of a mother who has a child who's experiencing a sensory meltdown. They are going to feel so much more comfortable and relaxed in an environment where they know that the staff is properly trained and they don't have to make excuses,” she said. “And I think a lot of it is, families oftentimes don't go on these family outings because it's just too complicated and they feel really anxious and uncomfortable because people don't really understand the world they're living in and what's going on with a person who's having a sensory meltdown.”

Sensory City provided training to all Kalahari associates, Shanle added.

“This training improves the sensory awareness of our associates and provides them with solutions to accommodate adults, youth and children with less visible disabilities such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, Down syndrome and dementia,” he said.

“When we rolled out the training to our associates, I was shocked at how many leaders and line-level associates told me later that they never understood why some of their family members, co-workers and our guests behaved the way they did. Through this inclusive training, they developed an enlightened perspective and a newfound respect and understanding of those with invisible disabilities.”

Beaches Resorts also has sensory friendly offerings, which include noise-canceling headphones and “a line of pillows with patented sound technology designed to assist guests with autism who have sleep challenges,” Joel Ryan, group manager of entertainment and youth activities for Beaches Resorts, said via email.

Ryan said Beaches Resorts has attained “the Advanced Certified Autism Center (ACAC) designation by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES),” which required staff to undergo 40 hours of autism sensitivity and awareness training.

The water sports team also “completed the ACAC training and certification in collaboration with the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) and IBCCES, making them the first in the Caribbean to earn this designation—one component that's particularly unique to Beaches Resorts,” Ryan added.

“At Beaches Resorts, our goal is to ensure all parents are at ease knowing their children are in a safe and comfortable environment,” he said. “We want parents to enjoy a fun-filled (luxury) vacation knowing their children are having the same experience.”

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