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A Game Changer for Eagles Fans with Sensory Needs

The Eagles and CHOP Created a Sensory Room at The Linc for Kids and Adults with Autism

Article by Ashley Barrett Kanoff

Photography by Philadelphia Eagles

Originally published in Newtown City Lifestyle

The Philadelphia Eagles have gone above and beyond to be inclusive for their fans on the autism spectrum. The Eagles partnered with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), a founding beneficiary partner of the Eagles Autism Challenge, to open one of the first fully-certified sensory rooms at a sports stadium for children and adults with autism. The Eagles have also partnered with KultureCity, a nonprofit based in Birmingham, Alabama, to create the room as part of a new initiative to promote accommodating and positive experiences for all fans. KultureCity helped the Eagles get the stadium up to "sensory-inclusive" certification standards. The addition of this state-of-the-art sensory room officially makes Lincoln Financial Field a sensory-inclusive stadium.

The "no reentry" rule that's applied at Lincoln Financial Field, as well as most major venues, can make a family coping with sensory needs think twice about whether to even go to an event like a professional football game. The Philadelphia Eagles decided to build the sensory room in the Linc so those fans can feel comfortable attending the games, so they don't have to feel left out, and to hopefully ease any anxiety by giving them an option after they are already inside the venue.

The 500-square-foot room first opened to the public this past August at the Eagles open practice after being constructed in the off season. The Eagles are the first NFL franchise to open a sensory room exclusively for fans with sensory challenges who might need to decompress from all the excitement and noise happening out by the field. The sensory room was designed by top medical professionals, is fully equipped with noise-cancelling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads. 

“With the opening of Lincoln Financial Field in 2003, we made it an organizational priority to create a one-of-a-kind experience for guests in a safe, friendly and inclusive environment,” Jeffrey Lurie, Chairman and CEO of the Eagles said. “It is truly heartwarming to know that this state-of-the-art sensory room will now provide a sense of ease and comfort for families and loved ones who may be experiencing sensory challenges at Lincoln Financial Field. In this moment, we are creating a major shift from autism awareness to action and it is all thanks to our compassionate and caring fans, Eagles Autism Challenge supporters, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the autism community around the world.”

Fans are encouraged to download the KultureCity app to see what sensory features are available and where they can be accessed, prior to entering The Linc.

The Eagles have also announced that every guest services stand in the Linc now offers "sensory bags" filled with tools like noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads. For fans who might get too overwhelmed by the loud noises and bright lights on the field, the sensory room offers the next needed step, a quiet spot to regroup.

"They can't see the field, but that's kind of on purpose, so they can take a break, center themselves and rejoin the experience," explained Ryan Hammond, executive director of the Eagles Autism Challenge.

One in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sensory tools aren't just for individuals on the autism spectrum - one in six children in the US have a development disability, a CDC study says.

The goal, KultureCity Chief Operating Officer Uma Srivastava says, is to "prevent social isolation for those with sensory needs. We provide sensory tools and recommendations to make simple modifications so an individual with sensory needs is able to enjoy anything."

The KultureCity app also offers a "social story" experience for all of their sensory-inclusive certified venues, so families can prepare for their experience and know what amenities are available.

As a part of the certification about 700 game-day and full-time Eagles employees were trained how to recognize and help fans who might be experiencing a sensory overload situation, Hammond said. Even the Eagles mascot, Swoop, is prepared on how to best visit with fans with sensory needs. One dad who brought his twins to the soft opening of the sensory room during a general admission team practice on August 4, said Swoop really made his kids feel comfortable.