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Hockey is for Everyone Spotlight: PNC Arena’s Sensory Inclusion Program Opens New Doors

Events at PNC Arena now cater to a previously underserved population.

Jamie Kellner

Goal horns, flashing lights, and loud music are typical features at a hockey game. For some fans buying a ticket, they’re typically prepared for that, and it comes with the territory. But for others, those factors can weigh heavily on the enjoyment of what should be an entertaining event.

For fans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, autism, anxiety and other neuroprocessing conditions, dealing with uncontrollable factors can be a burden when trying to have fun. In an effort to provide a comfortable and welcoming experience for everyone who walks through the doors, PNC Arena has partnered with KultureCity, a special needs non-profit, to become a certified sensory inclusive venue, one of only a few arenas with that designation in the United States.

Local high school senior Cameron Jarvis, who is on the autism spectrum, presented the program idea to Carolina Hurricanes management as a class project. Jarvis’ condition gives her the ability to understand those that may be sensitive to aspects of a game or event.

“When Cameron presented the idea, it helped us realize this is a population we haven’t really thought about,” said Hurricanes president Don Waddell. “We began to think about how different arena events can have an effect on different people.”

Sensory inclusive does not mean there are any changes to the arena itself, other than designated quiet areas to avoid or reduce stimulation. For instance, PNC Arena doesn’t control concert event lighting or other aspects of a production, but provides all the materials to help a guest cope for a better experience. By contrast, sensory-friendly locations remove the potential stimuli entirely.

Now, at every PNC Arena event, those who have sensory needs are able to access materials to help them through the event, such as weighted lap bags to help provide guests with an extra sense of security, noise-canceling headphones, and glasses for light sensitivity - all available at guest services for no extra cost.

“There will be some added swag in there as well with things like stress balls,” Waddell said.

The overall process for the arena to implement this program took about 3 to 6 months to put together.

“Getting the partnership with KultureCity really expedited the program,” Waddell said. “Without them, it would have been a much different process. They have experience with programs like this and made it so we didn’t have to do any of the research.”

The program is already making waves around the nation, as PNC Arena taking action with sensory inclusion is somewhat of a trendsetter. “We’ve had other arenas calling to get information and see what the reception has been,” Waddell said.

The reception and effects have been great for Caniacs. “I had a father who has a son with autism call me and said he could only last one period, or at most two,” Waddell said. “But now, with the noise canceling headphones and other things to occupy him, he can usually make it through the whole game.”

And during Hockey Is For Everyone month, it proves that the initiative doesn’t just apply to those playing the game, but also those who want to enjoy the game by cheering on their team.

Additional Information

KultureCity’s sensory inclusive website lists other venues and businesses that have attained the sensory inclusive certification.

The PNC Arena sensory inclusive page features information on how the program is specifically tailored to events held at the arena.