Air travel can be stressful. (Yes, even at the country’s best airport.) For travelers with anxiety and those on the autism spectrum, it can be an experience riddled with sensory overload, a process by which the five senses take in more information than the brain can process at one time. But in a first for the airport, PDX has opened a new sensory room in its Concourse D terminal, which is available to passengers 24/7.
Sensory rooms are therapeutic spaces designed to help individuals experience a range of stimuli in a safe environment, through the use of special lighting, colors, sounds, interactive objects, and sometimes even aromas.
At PDX, the 717-square-foot space, formerly used for storage, is decked out with activity panels, fabric wall coverings, interactive lighting units, and comfy seating. The space also features artwork from Xander Griffith, a Vancouver, Washington–based fiber artist, who previously held an exhibit in PDX's Concourse B before it was recently renovated. The room, which had been in development at PDX for about three years, is capped off with large windows for observing planes as they come in and out.
As spaces and programs designed for fliers with autism become more common in airports around the country like Pittsburgh International Airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, and more, the West Coast is taking notice. Last year Seattle-Tacoma International Airport unveiled its own sensory room, featuring a starlit sky ceiling, rocking chairs (literally shaped like rocks with water rings), cozy reading nooks, acoustic panels, and more. When PDX began work on its sensory room, the planning team consulted with the Birmingham and Akron airports, as well as with Sea-Tac.
"For our space, we took the advice of other airports and then we partnered with KultureCity, the Autism Society of Oregon, and the ARC Oregon to be sure that we were creating a space that would be designed for and inclusive of the needs for all intended users," says Kama Simmons, media relations manager for Port of Portland. "We’re excited to offer this new space to travelers using the D and E concourses. This is the first of what we hope will be several sensory spaces at PDX."