We're amped up about the Rock Hall's efforts toward sensory inclusion

Imagine 100,000 watts of surround sound pumping out high-voltage performances from 100 artists including Prince, the Rolling Stones, and Metallica, shown on 12-foot-high moving screens. Top it off with 761 laser lighting cues (one per second), and the Rock Hall’s “Power of Rock Experience” is one potent multimedia mashup.

For many people, “Power of Rock” amounts to a highly memorable music experience, but for those with sensory processing issues, it can be a whole lotta overload.

“Our museum is great, but it’s loud,” says John Goehrke, the museum's director of visitor engagement. “It’s a unique museum experience compared to a beautiful art museum that won’t have constant sonic bombardment.”

That’s why the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame recently partnered with KultureCity to offer free “sensory bags” to guests so that everyone who visits can comfortably access all that the museum has to offer. First launched on Friday, August 24, the bags include items like noise-cancelling headphones, fidget tools, weighted lap pads, and Rock Hall-themed sunglasses for those with light sensitivities.

According to Goehrke, the bags can help visitors with a wide array of needs for optimal inclusion. “People tend to think about autism the most, but [sensory processing issues can also affect] anyone with PTDS, Downs Syndrome, dementia, or anxiety,” says Goehrke. “At the Rock Hall, we celebrate volume, and we’re surrounded by bright lights and loud music, so we wanted to create a space conducive to anyone with a sensory need.”

The Rock Hall team didn’t have to look far for inspiration, as both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena had worked with KultureCity to make their own venues more accessible. (The Q was the first NBA Arena certified as sensory-inclusive, and the Cavaliers debuted “The Quiet Space” room in March 2017.)

“We were turned on to KultureCity through the Cavs,” says Goehrke. “We’ve always had great respect for the work they do in enhancing the guest experience, which has always been a priority for the Cavs and The Q.”

In obtaining the sensory inclusion certification from KultureCity, 75 Rock Hall staff members underwent a dedicated internal after-hours training program this summer, which Goehrke says was “paramount” to the effort. “The training was about better understanding and interacting with people who have sensory needs—for instance, how to approach someone who might be having or nearing a meltdown,” says Goehrke.

Along with offering the sensory bags, the museum has also introduced new signage designating “Headphone Zones” (i.e. louder areas) and “Quiet Zones” that are more removed from the action.

The announcement comes on the heels of the Rock Hall’s June announcement of its CLE VIP program, in which all Cleveland residents now receive free admission to the museum. “Any barrier we can eliminate is crucial for us,” says Goehrke. “We want to give [Clevelanders] every reason to come to the Rock Hall.”

With the Cleveland Indians’ recent announcement that their organization would also offer sensory bags, it’s an exciting time for access and inclusion in Cleveland. According to Goehrke, the Rock Hall is the first Hall of Fame to receive sensory inclusion certification, as well as one of the first music museums to do so.

“Northeast Ohio is really becoming a leader—in fact, one of my friends at The Q calls it ‘Sensory City,’” says Goehrke, pointing to the Akron Art Museum and Akron Children’s Museum as other examples. “I take great pride in what the Rock Hall is doing, but even bigger pride in seeing colleagues and other museums doing similar work. There’s great work being done here to increase accessibility across the board.”


Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As a Cleveland native and enthusiast, Jen Jones Donatelli is thrilled to take on the managing editor role at FreshWater. As a full-time freelance writer and editor for more than a decade, Jen has contributed to publications including Redbook, Budget Travel, GOOD, Playboy, Thrillist, Cleveland Magazine, Los Angeles Confidential, San Francisco, Ohio Today, and many more. She is also a contributing editor for Destination Cleveland and a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
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