Sensory room to open in Life Building next year for neurodiverse, disabled community members

The AMS is planning to open a fully-equipped sensory room in the Life Building for neurodiverse, autistic and disabled members of the UBC community by spring 2022.

A sensory room is a designated area with reduced lighting and sound that individuals can use when they feel overstimulated, specifically allowing them to reduce stress and improve focus in a safe space.

Stephanie Quon, a third-year electrical and biomedical engineering student, has been leading the development of the sensory room project since summer 2020. Quon is working with AMS VP Administration Lauren Benson and AMS Associate VP Administration Ben Du to open the room.

“I’m hopeful that it’ll provide a place for people to self-regulate if they feel overstimulated on campus,” said Quon. “I also hope it’ll bring more awareness to sensory rooms and … the challenges that neurodiverse, autistic and disabled folks face in institutions of higher education.”

Additionally, Quon hopes that individuals who use the sensory room will be able to build a community through the room.

“Throughout the consultations as well, a lot of the people that participated mentioned that they could find community in a sensory room so I’m also hopeful that there’ll be that possibility of creating a community through shared experiences in the space,” said Quon.

Quon received funding from the Employment and Social Development Canadian Enabling Accessibility Fund and from the AMS Innovative Projects Fund, adding up to $11,500 in total.

As part of the sensory room project, Quon consulted with representatives from Autistics United Canada, UBC Disabilities United Club, UBC Occupational Therapy and the UBC Sensory Perception and Interaction Research Group.

“UBC usually does the bare minimum and usually actually less than that to support disabled people … even when they’re trying to help, what they can do is really limited,” said Oliver McDonald, the current vice-president of the UBC Disabilities United Club. “But I will say that having a sensory room is definitely a step in the right direction.”

During the summer, Quon consulted McDonald and other members of the UBC Disabilities United Club in which she asked for feedback on specific features of the sensory room.

“She was really receptive to the ideas and asked us questions … the Disabilities Club has a lot of experience with sensitivities and disabilities,” said McDonald.

“Usually in projects like this, the people who do the consultation or who reach out to different groups aren’t the people who ultimately make the decisions or funding … she was very genuine, and hopefully that kind of genuineness runs all the way up the line.”

Because the sensory room is intended to help neurodiverse, autistic and disabled individuals, Quon thinks it would have a greater impact on the UBC community if someone who identifies as a member of one of those groups had a leadership role in the project.

“I think it would be ideal for this kind of work to be led by someone who is neurodiverse, autistic or disabled,” said Quon. “I think it’s kind of hard since … it’s been volunteer-based and it’d be unreasonable to ask someone to take this on an unpaid basis … so hopefully there’ll be the funding for that in the future.”

The project still has some details that need to be worked out — Quon said that she is concerned about access to the sensory room. Ideally, it would be a quiet and controlled space; however, if too many people are there simultaneously, that would contradict the original purpose of the sensory room.

The sensory room will ideally encourage students to focus on their mental health but also allow them to experience academic growth, McDonald said.

“It will help people who struggle to be involved in either student or recreational life at UBC … this will help them connect a lot more with different clubs and activities,” said McDonald. “Being there in student life but having the option to have a break when you need to take it without having to go all the way home, that’s very important.”