College opens sensory spaces on campus

Over 80 study spaces have been created in the Library

Today, Trinity announced a number of spaces on campus that are to function as supportive sensory environments for students and staff.

More than 80 individual study spaces have been created within six sensory areas across the Berkeley, Lecky, Ussher, Hamilton and Stearne libraries, with an additional five areas to be completed in the coming weeks.

Individual sensory rooms on campus and sensory areas within four student social spaces have also been unveiled.

The spaces were developed by TCD Sense as part of the Trinity Sensory Processing Project, which aims to make College more accessible for students who experience barriers to managing and adapting to campus’ sensory environments.

The project involves reviewing and improving new and existing spaces, building awareness of sensory issues, and delivering specialist supports to students with sensory needs.

TCD Sense was established by the Disability Service and staff from the discipline of occupational therapy in 2019. The project has established partnerships with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), the Trinity Ability Co-op, the Library and laboratories within science schools.

“Developing an inclusive campus for students with sensory processing issues” is one of the objectives of the Trinity Disability Service’s Strategic Plan for 2020-25 period.

Director of the Disability Service Declan Treanor said the service has plans for the future including “developing a sensory map of Trinity, including sensory design principles in new developments, as well as adding sensory designed spaces in student accommodation and other spaces that are deemed to be useful to develop”.

In January, Trinity was granted €482,364 as part of a €5.4m government grant for students with disabilities. Trinity has used almost half of its allocation on the developments announced today, with an additional €126,500 being provided collectively by the Library, TCDSU and the Director of Student Services.

Commenting on the unveiling of the sensory spaces, TCDSU President Leah Keogh said: “It has been a joy to work alongside the Disability Service on this project which has uniquely provided quiet spaces in busy places.”

“The attention to detail is what has made this project so effective; the colours, textures and pieces were all hand selected to create the best possible environment for students to take some time out.”

“This project has set the benchmark for what our student spaces should be going forward.”

Speaking to Trinity News, a spokesperson for Trinity Ability Co-op said: “Project leads Kieran Lewis and Jessica K. Doyle have done a fantastic job of introducing spaces on campus that are sensory-friendly to not only students with disabilities, but for all students with sensory needs.”

“The Trinity Ability Co-op will continue to support TCD Sense by promoting the spaces through our social media channels and actively recommending the spaces for students to use”, the spokesperson added.

The Sensory Processing Project is backed by research from the Disability service and Occupational Therapy, which included a sensory audit of the Library.

In May 2019, 150 students registered with College’s Disability Service completed a survey on sensory experiences. 60% reported that there was no quiet space on campus to access if feeling overwhelmed, with 50% saying that they leave campus when feeling overwhelmed.

The Library also carried out user experience research to investigate the impact of the sensory environment on wellbeing and productivity, especially for students who experience sensory overload.

Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy Dr Clodagh Nolan said: “Managing the sensory environment including its design is an important element in enabling a person to learn constructively and to get the most from their day-to-day activities.”

“Real world research into the sensory environment which included all stakeholders in collaboration with the Discipline of Occupational Therapy has enabled us to translate the findings of this research into managing and changing environments to meet the needs of those who are challenged by these environments.”

Helen Shenton, Librarian and College Archivist added: “Based on inclusive research with our students, we have designed a range of environments that will help our readers feel at ease and comfortable while in the Library.”

“We hope they will improve the quality of their experience both in the Library and across the University.”

Sarah Emerson

Sarah Emerson is currently a Deputy News Editor of Trinity News. She is a Senior Sophister English Literature and Jewish and Islamic Civilizations Student.