CLEVELAND — The home of the NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers can be deafening and blinding, as it was during parts of Friday night's game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Yet in a room tucked within the labyrinth-like halls of Quicken Loans Arena, it was eerily quiet — by design.
A sensory-inclusive room, developed by technology non-profit KultureCity is the first in an NBA arena in the country to accommodate fans with autism, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder and similar conditions. Loud noises, flashing lights and crowds at sporting events are often obstacles to those individuals.
Inside the room, a laptop plays a soothing video of a Florida beach. Sensory bags contain noise-cancelling headphones and weighted lap pads. Bean bags and a rocking chair offer comfortable seating. KultureCity is readying a sensory-Inclusive app for the Q and other venues.
The Cavs are also allowing fans exit and re-entry privileges to the 23-year-old arena, a rarity in the NBA.
By opening its doors to an underserved audience, the Cavs aren't just doing the right thing. They're enriching their already-valuable franchise's market value — something other professional sports teams are noticing. The NBA's Atlanta Hawks, and NFL's Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles are interested, as is Cleveland's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The project is the latest brainchild of KultureCity, a 3-year-old start-up in Birmingham, Ala., that is trying to reshape the non-profit business model, operating in part as an incubator to help launch several businesses that emphasize the hiring of autistic individuals. Rather than focus on fundraising, it has focused on partnerships with big tech companies and celebrity endorsements, such as the Cavaliers.
“We have elevated our awareness and procedures to a higher level,” Len Komoroski, CEO of the Cavs and Quicken Loans Arena, said in a statement. “Although we are unable to alter the environment during events, such as noise level, special effects and things of that nature, we can work with guests to offer multiple options if and when they feel overwhelmed.”
The Q’s part- and full-time staff of more than 1,500 were trained by KultureCity staff to better assist those with sensory sensitivities.
“As more and more families are affected by sensory processing challenges today, this type of service will become more common at sporting venues,” says Dr. Julian Maha, KultureCity's founder. "Someone said it well on Facebook: the Q may be the NBA's oldest arena, but it is the most-forward thinking."
The first of KultureCity's "social good" products was lifeBOKS, a free kit for autistic families to help prevent autistic children from wandering-related accidents. Drowning is the leading cause of death in autistic children under the age of 8. lifeBOKS contains a BlueTooth tracking bracelet, a QR-code shoe tag, wireless door alarms, and safety tattoo for identification. So far, the kit has prevented 36 drownings. A sensory initiative, KultureCity's second product, includes noise-sensitive headphones.