Recently, brands have begun to reassess their products or services to promote acceptance and inclusion – creating accessible card games for colorblind players and supporting rock climbing para-athletes. The National Autistic Society even used VR to show individuals how chaotic a simple shopping experience can be for children with autism, inspiring empathy and understanding from shoppers. Now, as more companies focus on inclusivity, the NBA is acknowledging its autistic fans – evolving empathy into action.
When the NBA’s flagship store in New York City opened on World Autism Awareness Day, it became the first sensory-inclusive retail store in the world. Lights, noise, and crowds are certainly part of the NBA atmosphere, but can also overstimulate those with autism or other sensory processing disorders – sometimes resulting in a panic attack. The NBA Store has partnered with KultureCity, a nonprofit which works to make public spaces sensory-inclusive, offering “sensory bags” with noise-canceling headphones, fidget spinners and weighted lap bands to make fans with sensory issues more comfortable. Additional efforts include extra exits which can be used by overwhelmed shoppers to escape the noise. Most importantly, the NBA Store staff has been trained to better understand, interact and identify, visitors with sensory sensitivities. Although other stores acknowledge this need with sensory-friendly shopping days, the NBA Store’s efforts are a permanent, year-round commitment. Today, 14 NBA arenas are equipped with features for fans with sensory needs, and that amount is expected to grow in the upcoming season. Jeff Belles, father of a 10-year-old autistic son reflected on the changes being implemented saying, “We’re not trying to change how companies do business. It’s not very expensive to make a store more inclusive, but for families like ours, it makes a world of difference.”
Although many NBA fans love the flashy elements of the game, the organization recognized that small changes could be executed to make the experience more inclusive. The launch of the NBA flagship stores in NYC is a signal not only to the basketball community, but also brick-and-mortar locations of all shapes and sizes, that inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult. Companies who want to cater to their fans should aim not only for acceptance, but accommodation for all.