Sensory Overload

by Amber Schutz
We’ve talked about Muddy Puddles, a not-for-profit organisation offering therapy and education programs for young people with a disability, their families and the community in previous blogs. To give you an update I have recently been selecting the internal colours and finishes to provide spaces that did not contribute to sensory overload. This should really be considered in all building design and particularly in environments that cater for people with dementia or autism. Five areas to think about are as follows:
  1. Noise This may include high frequency sounds from technical equipment and machinery noises as well as noise from footsteps or traffic. Where possible spaces should be acoustically insulated and hard surfaces that will contribute to ambient noise should be avoided.
  2. Lighting Triple phase computer monitors, and LED, halogen or incandescent light globe should be considered. Florescent lighting, which may flicker at the end of the globe’s lifespan should be avoided. Lights should also be dimmable, so people can voluntarily reduce the amount of stimulus in a space.
  3. Smells This is more an operational than design element, but perfume, aromatherapy and air-fresheners should be avoided. If spaces have adequate natural ventilation, then the inclination to use artificial products may be lessened.
  4. Reflections Automatic opening doors, movement in glass, mirrors, shiny lamps, polished metal and marble floors can contribute to sensory overload. Glare and reflections may be confusing or frightening to people with dementia. Matt finishes and brushed metal are better alternatives.
  5. Texture Things that will be touched such as handrails, trays, handles and benchtops should feel warm and solid. Textures should be assessed and considered by designers and avoided if they will provide users with an unnecessary sensory distraction.
The Disability Discrimination Act promotes equal rights, opportunities and access for everyone. As architects, it is important that we consider all abilities in the built environments that we design. A recent initiative at Coles called Quiet Hour will expose us all to elements of disability friendly design.    
Sensory Overload