HCN News & Notes

Sensory Friendly Saturdays Provide a Quiet Welcome at Springfield Museums

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Museums will present Sensory Friendly Saturdays on the second Saturday of each month from 9 to 11 a.m., starting May 8. Sensory Friendly Saturdays provide less noise, dimmer light, and cool-down spaces for those who have sensory sensitivity.

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and the Springfield Science Museum will open early, with some exhibits modified to provide an opportunity for people with a range of differing abilities to experience what the museums have to offer. Trained staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer questions and, if necessary, direct visitors to a quiet space that provides a chance to cool down and take a break. Sensory-friendly crafts for all ages will be available in the Cat’s Corner.

Parents and caregivers must stay with their children at all times. The modifications are enabled until 11 a.m. Preview guides are available for those who would like to explore what to expect before arriving at the museums.

If visitors find the Museums too overwhelming and need to leave before 10 a.m., the Welcome Center staff will give the family a voucher to try again on another Sensory Friendly Saturday.

The Springfield Museums became universal-participation-designated two years ago as part of a Massachusetts Cultural Council program to help museums, theaters, and other cultural organizations pay particular attention to ensuring their programming is accessible to all people.

“We learned so much during the Mass Cultural Council training and met so many helpful people as they visited our museums to help us assess where we could do better,” said Heather Cahill, director of Development for the Museums. “We wanted to put as many improvements into place as possible right away while we continued to work on our long-range plans.

“One of our user-expert visitors had sensory sensitivity and explained that having space with less movement and less noise was very helpful to her comfort in a new place,” Cahill added. “We knew we could offer this space right away if we opened the museums a little earlier, especially for those who would like to have this experience.”

The staff created preview guides for families to read together before visiting the museums and made decisions about which exhibits they could modify to be more friendly to visitors with sensitivity to noise, lights, and movement. Laura Sutter, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss education coordinator, oversees the Cat’s Corner, a hands-on creativity space in the Seuss museum. Sutter created age-appropriate crafts and literacy activities especially for sensory-sensitive children. “We know that any change we make for a specific group of people often benefits all of our visitors,” she said. “My goal is to make all of our visitors feel welcome in the Cat’s Corner through the types of activities we offer.”

“We want to make our museums accessible and relevant to all visitors,” said Kay Simpson, president and CEO of Springfield Museums. “Our vision is to have every visitor say, ‘wow, they thought of everything!’”