Milwaukee’s Baird Center Offers Oasis of Calm

Baird Center expansion to be certified as a Sensory Inclusive™ venue

In Milwaukee, the Baird Center is undergoing a $456 million expansion that will include modifications throughout the facility to accommodate attendees that suffer from sensory sensitivity. Autism, PTSD, anxiety, cystic fibrosis, ADHD and epilepsy are just a few sensory sensitivities millions of children and adults cope with every day. Being in a live events space with crowds, loud noises or harsh lighting can make managing a sensory sensitivity even more difficult. One in four people have sensory sensitivities, which can quickly turn a good time into a stressful situation.

“Overstimulation is a real thing for individuals with some disabilities and what happens is those individuals stop going out in the community or they stop really taking advantage of wonderful activities and events that are out there that with slight modifications would really make it an enjoyable and exciting experience,” Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin Executive Director Rechelle Chaffee said.

By becoming a Sensory Inclusive™ certified venue the expanded venue is going to be an important part of Milwaukee’s social and entertainment scene. “Making the expanded Baird Center an inclusive space for all is not just a goal, it’s a necessity. Every guest should be able to enjoy our events to the fullest, even if that means stepping away for a few moments to decompress in one of our sensory rooms or utilizing some of the tools in our sensory bags,” Wisconsin Center District President and CEO Marty Brooks said. “We want every guest and attendee to feel safe and welcomed when they walk through Baird Center’s doors.”

Working with KultureCity, an Alabama-based non-profit organization which trains staff at venues and then certifies venues which have sensory inclusive modifications, Baird Center is constructing two state-of-the-art sensory rooms and stocking the venue with sensory bags and tools. KultureCity works with a team of occupational speech-behavioral therapists, physicians and neurodivergent individuals to design sensory rooms at venues across the globe. Rooms are equipped with various audio and visual panels and specialized bean bags for seating. Through their specialized design, the sensory rooms can be used by people of all ages.

“Sensory rooms really are that band-aid or that safety net for individuals with disabilities to feel free to take the chance and try something new,” Chaffee said.

KultureCity will supply Baird Center with sensory bags equipped with noise-reducing headphones, three types of fidget tools and a visual cue card. Bags are reusable and will be wiped down after each use with antibacterial wipes.

“You may be in an environment where you may need some sensory supports and you don’t have those, but you don’t want to leave,” Chaffee said. “Sensory bags are just another wonderful tool to help individuals be able to take some ownership and control but still be able to enjoy the wonderful experience.”

Baird Center staff will also undergo a specialized training program to learn how to interact with guests who have sensory sensitivities and how to help them use the sensory bags or rooms.

“Moving forward, as a society, really it speaks volumes to have community partners that are opening the doors and embracing a neurodiverse population,” Chaffee said. “ Not just embracing, but also stepping up and asking the questions, ‘What can we do to make our venue more inclusive, accepting and diverse?’”

Baird Center aims to lead the industry in integrating state-of-the-art inclusive features throughout the expanded convention center. Sensory rooms and bags are just one of several planned initiatives.

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