Accessible Travel Series: The Sensory Safe Suite at Heritage Financial Park
Date Published: July 1, 2022
The Hudson Valley Renegades baseball team, the High-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, proudly unveiled its Sensory Safe Suite at the beginning of the 2022 season at Heritage Financial Park (formerly Dutchess Stadium) in Wappingers Falls. Created in partnership with Curemark LLC, the Sensory Safe Suite allows families with children on the autism spectrum to enjoy the baseball game – along with all the other promotions and attractions the Renegades provide, including music, fireworks and fan-participatory games and activities – away from the louder and often over-stimulating environments in other areas of the ballpark.
The suite can accommodate up to 12 people. In addition to traditional, outdoor stadium seating, the indoor portion of the suite includes the ordinary amenities you might find in most other suites, like a couch, a table, a television and a countertop with a sink. Then, there are the not-so-ordinary items – like the ball-pit and the teepee – that help create a uniquely welcoming and engaging place. A glass door and windows separate the two areas to keep the noise out and provide every guest with a way to enjoy the ballpark experience in their own way.
Curemark not only helped the Renegades design the Sensory Safe Suite, but it also helps cover the cost for families to use it.
The following is a Q and A with Hudson Valley Renegades Community Partnerships and Guest Services Manager Marcella Costello on June 21, 2022.
How much does it cost, and how can fans reserve the suite?
It is totally free of charge for families to use. All they have to do is visit our website and fill out an application. Those forms go right to me, and we compile all that information and find a date that works for them. (To fill out the application, click here.)
On behalf of Curemark, the tickets essentially are paid for. If they're a family of four, they may want to bring grandma and grandpa, maybe their cousin. We've had quite a few families that may have had cousins on the spectrum, too, so we've had two families together that know each other, and there may have been five or six children on the spectrum at the same time who have utilized it. How ever many tickets they need, we're offering them that experience at no cost. The only additional costs would be for food and beverages.
What are the options for food and beverages in the suite?
Some like to leave the suite and go stand in line, and others totally take advantage of the suite attendants who will actually go down to the concession stands for them. That's something we offer so they never have to leave the suite unless they're going to use the restroom, and all that stuff is up here. So, they don't ever have to go and intermingle with all the crowd.
We’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback. We've actually filled the suite for the season. So, the word's gotten out. And it's been very positive feedback and a positive reaction to it.
Overall, it has put families much more at ease, especially just knowing that they can enjoy the game and all of that outside and hear everything that's going on, and their child and maybe the siblings are inside. And they don't have to worry about hearing or feeling any of the chaos that might be happening outside. They can stay inside, they can open the sliding glass door, or they can utilize the stadium seats that are out in front as well.
I actually had a family tell me that the ball pit was the most amazing thing ever. The first thing that the child did was jump in it, and they stayed in it the whole time. The family told me, while they were at the game, they ordered a ball pit for their house, because their child loved it so much. It's fun, and it's been a huge hit.
For myself, engaging with those families helps you realize how many families are out there that actually are affected and may not have come to a game since they have a child who is on the spectrum, or they've tried, and they just couldn't stay.
Have you gotten feedback from families that have stayed for fireworks shows that, maybe because of the loud noise, haven't been able to experience that or participate previously?
Yes, absolutely. We've had many families tell us that, even if their child had to have the headphones (during the game), they wouldn't be able to stay for the fireworks. Now that they were able to use the suite, their child could sit inside and watch them, and they were totally fine. Even from the standpoint of the game and that overwhelming atmosphere of being out and hearing what's going on, they can put them in the suite. And again, they will play in the ball pit and do their thing while the parents will sit outside and watch. There were some worries about the fireworks and such that maybe they wouldn't be able to make it through but being able to see it run through the glass door, they hadn't didn't have to worry because they shut the doors and they were totally fine.
Who determines which sensory-safe items would work best in the suite?
In partnership with Curemark, some of their recommendations were the ball pit and the teepee. And these nice gel foam pads that we have in here. And then other stuff was kind of up to us based off what we thought would be the best fit. So, we've added some additional sensory-safe items. And that list continues to grow as we continue to get some feedback from families. We've had children of all different ages. We've even had young adults and adults. So, we're able to get some of that feedback and we can look into ordering some more stuff.
Are other venues starting to offer Sensory Safe Suites like this one?
I know the goal of Curemark is to tap into as many markets as they possibly can. I know That Brooklyn has one as well. Their goal was to try to get into as many minor league markets as possible. And I know that there are many other minor league teams that are interested in it. I think this is something that every team should have. It's just been such an addition to what we're trying to do here and continue to do here, that it would be nice to see everybody be able to offer such a space.
Other accessibility features at Heritage Financial Park
There are specially designated, ADA-compliant parking spaces and seating areas.
When parking, simply show the attendant your ADA tag and they will direct you to the correct area to park.
Tickets for ADA seating are available for purchase over the phone at 845-838-0094 or in-person. ADA seating is not available online to be sure that these seats are available for those with ADA needs and their guests. Individuals in wheelchairs can access the ADA seating area and their companions will be given a folding chair.