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‘It just warms my heart’: Prince George Cougars create kits so sensory-overload fans can take in future games

Local advocate says bright lights, noise are reasons some residents choose to stay home

“I’ve had people talk about just the fact that they don’t always go out in the community in general because of the sensory challenges and I think this would be a part of that.”

Corey Walker says Prince George residents who experience sensory-related issues can have a hard time being outside their own home because of the elements associated with every day life.

This includes going out to watch hockey, a sport every local resident can resonate with, but for those who don’t take the sights and sounds for granted, it can be a challenge just to sit down amidst all the distractions in the arena.

Together with AutismBC, the Prince George Cougars have decided to reach out to those who may have these issues by assembling free sensory kits as part of a continued inclusiveness plan in getting fans of all ages, abilities and sensitivities to enjoy a game at the CN Centre.

“As soon as I get a chance, I’m going to have to come out to watch the Cougars and check out the sensory kits myself,” said Walker in an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters.

“As a self-advocate, it just warms my heart to see this happening and this is the first of many announcements in this community and hopefully other northern B.C. communities will take notice as well.”

According to Walker, who is the Northern BC Coordinator for AutismBC, about 1.5 per cent of Prince George’s population identifies as someone on the autism spectrum, equalling about 1,000 people.

But Walker says there may be more, so by partnering with the Cougars in making these kits, he believes this will allow others to come forward and share in the excitement of hockey game.

“We’ve got colouring books and little fidget toys which are actually good for all ages,” he explains, “but then there’s the stress balls and I use similar things when I do presentations, even when I’m presenting to a non-autistic audience, just because sometimes it's hard to sit. You don’t want to feel like you’re staring at the person, but you want to pay attention by having something to kind of fidget with that helps you relax as I’m talking for two hours.”

Included within the sensory kits are headphones, ear plugs, sunglasses, stress balls, colouring books, crayons and, as Walker earlier mentioned, fidget toys.

Cougars’ Vice-President of Business Andy Beesley says the idea for the kits came from former employee now Theatre NorthWest General Manager Marnie Hamagami.

The theatre added relaxed performances, allowing more people to attend shows and plays.

“You come to a hockey game and, for many of us, we just take it for granted,” says Beesley, “but when you think about the noise, the lights, the people, the distractions, the craziness, the horn going off, everything that happens is normal for us, but for people that don't come to our games because of sensory overload issues, it would be completely overwhelming.”

The addition of the sensory kits is another step put forward the Cougars have taken in recognizing they are one of the key community organizations that can reach out to anybody and everybody.

Other recent initiatives Beesley eluded to have included ‘non-discriminatory’ ticket prices, more room for charities to participate in off-ice events, and hosting the team’s first-ever Pride Night on Jan. 3.

“We have fully recognized and embraced the fact that the Prince George Cougars, in the past, have really made it so that there are certain segments of our society, certain individuals, certain fans, that may have barriers or good reasons why they have been uncomfortable or have been unable to attend games. [...] We’ve been working extremely hard to recognize and rectify and admit problematic areas.”

Sensory kits will be available for loan at no cost during every remaining home game in the Cougars’ 2019-20 season starting Friday, Jan. 24. 

The team advises families with sensory issues to reach out and arrange an in-person briefing prior to game-day on any assistance they may need in order for their experience to be as comfortable as possible.