To make games more inclusive for everyone, starting this Sunday the Penticton Vees Junior Hockey Club will be making sensory kits available at all home games.
The kits include noise-muffling headphones, sunglasses, a stress ball, sticker activities, hockey cards and a social story.
After seeing similar initiatives by other junior hockey organizations the Vees went out and purchased a number of kits for their own young fans who have sensory challenges.
“We all have different sensory systems,” said Manisha Willms, executive director of the OSNS Child and Youth Development Centre which is working in conjunction with the Vees on the project. “We know that the sensory systems of children with autism and similar disorders are different and that precludes them from participating in some of the activities that families like to participate in together.
“So at a hockey game, things like a sudden, bright lights that happen when a goal is scored or when the team first comes on the ice or the cheering that happens, that might be overwhelming to the point that they can’t manage.”
She related to something that makes most people cringe.
“So it would be like, I hate (finger) nails on a chalkboard and if someone put me in a room with nails going down a chalkboard and someone said: ‘Now Manisha, focus on watching this game or on doing some math or whatever it is, there would be no way that that would be tenable for me,” said Willms, who expressed her appreciation to the club for their efforts of inclusion. “These kits will go a long way towards making games more accessible.”
The social story will include things like what transpires at a hockey game, cheering, lights, so when that happens it will not be as much of a surprise to the kids.
“The stories will be things like when we go to a hockey game; ‘We sit in our seats and cheer for our team, sometimes it can get loud and I can use my head phones,’ things like that which will help the child,” said Willms.
The kits will be loaned out at no charge and will be available at the guest services booth on the concourse at the top of the stairs at the main entrance.
Phase two of the program will be to provide South Okanagan Event Centre (SOEC) tours prior to games so it goes from an unknown to someplace familiar.
“We feel fortunate to be part of a community that shows so much support for our team,” said Vees director of corporate partnerships, Alex Welsman, “We want our Vees games to be a place where all families feel included.”
Sunday’s B.C. Hockey League game is a 2 p.m., a matinee match against the West Kelowna Warriors.
Following that they will play four more home games to wrap up the regular season.