Haunts are known for being unexpected, dark, and intense. And while those are some of the things we love about them, they can present challenges for guests experiencing sensory impairments.
Just as you would try to accommodate guests with a physical disability, creating a sensory-friendly haunted house gives more guests the opportunity to enjoy your attractions.
Where to Start
Before we get into the details of how to create a sensory-accessible haunt, let’s first clarify what sensory impairments mean. This category includes those who are deaf or hearing impaired, blind, or have a visual impairment. Sensory impairments also include guests with conditions such as autism and Down syndrome, many of whom process sensory information differently than others.
Sensory processing issues are more common than you may think. At least one in twenty people may be affected by Sensory Processing Disorder. And as many as one in six children in the U.S. experiences some form of sensory impairment.
These sensitivities can vary from person to person and across different senses like hearing, sight, and touch.
Unique Challenges for Haunts
There are three key challenges for guests with sensory impairment issues when visiting a haunted attraction:
1. Intense Atmosphere: Haunted attractions thrive on intensity, but this can overwhelm individuals with sensory concerns, leading to discomfort or distress. For those who are hypersensitive, the constant onslaught of unsettling sounds, sudden surprises, and eerie ambiance can become a sensory overload.
2. Darkness and Lighting Effects: While darkness and dramatic lighting are part of the thrilling experience, they can be highly triggering for those with sensory sensitivities. Intense flashes of light and sudden changes in lighting conditions, specifically strobe lighting, can cause discomfort and disorientation.
3. Close Contact With Scare Actors: Haunts thrive on close encounters with scare actors, however, this can be distressing for individuals with sensory sensitivities. Sudden, unexpected behaviors involving loud noises, sudden movements, or physical contact can lead to heightened anxiety or fear.
How Do You Create A Sensory-Friendly Haunt Experience?
If you’re looking for ways to accommodate guests with sensory impairments or create a more autism-friendly haunt, you’ve come to the right place. Beyond complying with current disability laws, here are six strategies you can use to benefit your guests.
1. Designate Sensory-Friendly Days or Time Slots
This is a fairly straightforward and simple solution – consider offering specific day or time slots designated as “Sensory-Friendly Hours.” During these designated times, you can turn the lights up, turn down the sound effects, and even remove scare-actors from your haunt to reduce the intensity of the experience.
This accommodation not only caters to guests with sensory concerns but also appeals to families with young children. It’s a win-win strategy for broadening your audience base and ensuring everyone can enjoy your haunt.
2. Publish Clear Information on Your Website
When a guest knows what to expect from your haunt, they can make an informed choice. Your haunt’s website and social media should provide detailed information about potential sensory concerns. Describe the typical experience, including sound levels, lighting effects, and actor behavior. Also, it’s helpful to outline the specifics of “Sensory-Friendly Hours” and what sensory issues you’ve worked to avoid.
3. Have Clear Signage On-Site
Signage posted at the entrance to each attraction—especially those with loud sound effects or strobe lighting—will educate guests with sensory impairments before they reach the point of no return. Effective signage not only guides guests but also enhances their confidence in your haunt’s ability to provide a welcoming and accommodating atmosphere.
4. Train Your Staff
Train your staff to be sensitive to the needs of visitors with sensory concerns. Provide them with the tools they need to handle different situations, such as offering assistance, providing information, or recognizing signs of discomfort. Empathy and understanding should be at the forefront of staff training.
5. Provide Sensory Kits
Consider offering sensory kits to guests who may need them. These kits could include colored glow sticks, noise-canceling headphones, or fidget toys; all of which can help guests feel more comfortable. A specifically colored glow stick could signal to staff and scare actors to be aware of a guest’s sensitivities and act accordingly.
6. Offer Alternate Activities
To cater to a wider audience, consider diversifying your haunt experience. In addition to the traditional, intense attraction, you could set up a midway section that offers sensory-friendly options. Here, guests can enjoy a milder scare experience without the high-intensity elements. This way, your haunt can accommodate different comfort levels.
Creating a sensory-friendly or autism-friendly haunt presents unique challenges. However, it also opens up opportunities to reach a broader audience and make your haunt more inclusive. By implementing sensory-friendly measures, offering clear information, and training your staff, you can strike a balance between maintaining the thrill of your haunt and ensuring that everyone can enjoy themselves. Remember, it’s not about diluting the scare factor; it’s about making sure that the fear is accessible to all.