Every autistic person is different, but many report experiencing light, smells and sounds very intensely which is why at BOM we have designed our building to be as welcoming and as inclusive as we can possibly make it.
We consulted with autistic people and spent many hours researching best practice for autism-friendly buildings. The challenge was how to create a building that is comfortable for someone who has heightened sensory awareness.
For many autistics, their senses are working overtime so that lights may feel painfully bright, certain smells may induce nausea, textures may feel horrible to touch, or certain colours may be uncomfortable to look at. Autistic people talk of sensory overload and its consequences, which can have a profound effect on people’s quality of life and ability to get out and about and enjoy buildings, landscapes and environments. Sensory overload does not just affect autistic people, for instance many people with hearing loss also have hyperacusis, a debilitating disorder that means while most noises are blunted or hard to hear, certain other sounds are experienced as painfully loud.
We re-designed BOM to be easy to navigate, with clear signage throughout the building and we will shortly have a lift installed that will make access to all floors of the building easy for everyone.
Finding the perfect lighting solution has been very challenging; we spent many hours researching lighting options for BOM as this was one of the areas that our autistic consultants reacted to most in the original design of the space.
We learnt that fluorescent lighting is very uncomfortable for autistic people and that ideally natural light, or lighting that mimics natural light should be used as much as possible. Eventually we settled on a combination of high spec gallery lighting using wall washer lights designed by Matt Hogan from Ikon gallery, Birmingham and DAL (Designed Architectural Lighting) combined with IKEA Smart Lighting. Our Café, serving locally made food and supporting social enterprises is a welcoming, people-friendly space where you can sit and work peacefully or meet with friends. To welcome people with hearing challenges, autistic or otherwise, we have made it as quiet as possible, with foam pads under the chair legs and cork mats to deaden the clatter of cups. Even our coffee making machine is as quiet as it can be, sourced from Birmingham based manufacturer, Fracino.