The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just unveiled a special Sensory Room for travelers who are neurodiverse or overwhelmed by sensory input, and I wish it’s what the entire airport looked like.
Honestly, it has never even occurred to me that the terminal of an airport could be a peaceful and relaxing place, but just looking at these images has me wondering why the travel experience has to bombard us with so much noise and lighting and oh my God the smells, the smells. Airports can be nice, actually???
The airport launched the room to mark World Autism Awareness Day, and it's a wonderful way to improve people's lives, unlike so many other “awareness” campaigns. (Being “aware” of a thing isn’t the same as doing something about it.) It’s a quiet place with pleasant lighting and even features a compression chair, which might seem like the opposite of what you want before sitting in a middle seat for six hours, but at least this chair doesn't squirm and cough like a stranger buckled in next to you.
It looks blissful.
This space at SEA is a calming environment for those who may feel overwhelmed and overstimulated or need respite from the multitude of sights and sounds of the airport. It has many intentional features that create a soothing environment. https://t.co/eZj34FVX0v pic.twitter.com/Xn6dgYO9KC
— Seattle-Tacoma Intl. Airport (@flySEA) April 2, 2021
Airports are, inherently, giant stress factories — there’s the scheduling of everything, the maze of hallways, and the frantic removal of belts and shoes like you’re back in middle-school gym class. Then of course there’s the fact that you’re about to enter what is essentially a giant pipe filled with 50,000 gallons of explosive fuel, and the whole thing is enough to make you want to go live with squirrels in a hut in the forest, shaking your fist angrily every time you see an airplane up in the sky.
But I really think this room at Sea-Tac is a revelation. They’ve given it dimmable lighting and acoustic panels on the wall, a ceiling covered with gentle starry art, a rocking chair, and a pile of foam rocks to hold and squeeze (I am realizing as I write this that my home office is literally decorated with exactly the same amenities, with the addition of a white noise machine and multiple fidget devices within arm’s reach).
SeaTac has a history of accommodating people with “hidden” disabilities. You can request a sunflower lanyard at information desks to identify yourself as having special access needs; they have a guide designed for people who appreciate a pre-exposure review of upcoming new experiences; and they consulted with Wings for Autism and the Open Doors Organization to develop the new Sensory Room.
On my last trip through SeaTac, I recall the ordinary stress of travel being exacerbated by the smell of a rye bread sandwiches being reheated, the sound that certain light bulbs made, and the literal concept of Naugahyde coming into contact with any part of my body. The Sensory Room, on the other hand, is a thing of beauty. I hope it’s an atmosphere that can be extended beyond just a single room.