Graduate occupational therapy students develop ‘sensory friendly night’ at Mystic Aquarium

September 06, 2022

4 female OT students and their female professor posing for a photo

As a part of their Level II Fieldwork, four graduate occupational therapy students pioneered the Mystic Aquarium Sensory Friendly Night, specifically designed for individuals who have sensory needs or other disabilities and their families.

The evening, hosted this summer, included discounted tickets for full aquarium access with accommodated features such as limited guest capacity, appropriate lighting and decreased noise.

“While completing our fieldwork at Mystic Aquarium, our biggest goal was to promote inclusivity and accessibility,” said Nulin Phrommavanh ’20, OTD ’23. “This event enabled individuals who have sensory needs or disabilities to explore the environment without stressors in their environment.”

“As future occupational therapy practitioners, it was important for us to provide acceptance and belonging to a population that is underserved in the community,” added Emily Taft ’20, OTD ’23.

In preparation for the event, the group trained aquarium staff and volunteers on how to support and assist guests to the best of their abilities.

“We held training on sensory integration and de-escalation techniques – something we learned not only how to do, but how to teach others in our classroom coursework,” said Sarah Hannon ’19, OTD ’23. “With these skills, we were able to work together to create a successful sensory-friendly evening.”

Throughout the event, staff and volunteers were stationed throughout the aquarium in areas that may be overstimulating. 

“It’s almost difficult to articulate the joy that I felt seeing so many smiling faces, on both parents, kids and adult guests alike,” said Una Cooper ’20, OTD ’23. “Seeing the adaptations that we suggested for this event – in addition to the sensory-friendly foundation that had been previously created at Mystic Aquarium – come together for such a positive and meaningful experience for guests is a memory I will hold near and dear to my heart for the entirety of my professional career.”

Phrommavanh agreed, adding, “Through this experience, we found the need for occupational therapy at a site that you would not expect to find occupational therapy. We accomplished a lot this summer and are extremely proud of the strides Mystic Aquarium is making to create an inclusive and accommodating environment and experience for everyone.”

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