FedEx Field offers many standard accessibility features for their guests during NFL games. However, the Washington Commanders stadium doesn’t have a sensory room or offer sensory kits like many modern NFL stadiums do.
In contrast, the Baltimore Ravens offer sensory kits and sensory rooms, which allow guests who become overwhelmed by the noise and chaos of the stadium to escape it for a moment, recover and rejoin the game.
The Commanders’ stadium does a good job accommodating guests with physical disabilities. Not only does the stadium have accessible parking. It also has shuttles with wheelchair lifts servicing the gray lot. According to the FedEx Field stadium’s accessibility guide, every concession stand and bar is accessible to guests with wheelchairs.
However, lagging in accommodations for guests with sensory sensitivity is a loss for Commanders fans.
FedEx Field accessibility features and shortcomings
NFL stadiums and many large venues have accessibility features specifically for accommodating guests with physical disabilities. Escalators with room for wheelchairs and accessible restrooms are common. However, these venues are only beginning to flesh out a full suite of accessibility offerings for guests with sensory disabilities.
For example, FedEx Field offers assisted listening devices and live captioning services. Other NFL stadiums go a step further and have this service available on their apps, as the Cleveland Browns offer. Some stadiums, like Arrowhead Stadium, can also organize sign language interpreters before their games.
However, the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium offers sensory rooms and sensory kits, two accommodations that FedEx Field lacks. Sensory rooms are spaces without televisions that are insulated from the stadium’s noise. Instead of having to leave early due to being overstimulated, guests with sensory disabilities can retreat to this room to recenter before rejoining the game. Four stadiums rolled out sensory rooms in 2019, and at least eight stadiums offer them today.
Sensory kits are more common. These are bags that may include weighted blankets, noise-canceling headphones or other materials that help stadium guests cope with the game day noise. Sensory kits can offer some of the same comforts that a sensory room is designed to. However, sensory rooms have extra space for either multipurpose functions or large games that don’t fit into guest services bags.
Uneven accessibility offerings
As stadiums expand their accessibility features, they may not offer them all at once. It may be easier for a stadium to implement mobile captioning than building a sensory room. Another stadium may have a spare first aid room to convert into a sensory room but not offer wheelchair storage.
Sensory accommodations are an emerging area of accessibility that NFL stadiums are beginning to address. The Ravens have invested in emerging sensory accommodations while the Commanders haven’t. These investments are often made unevenly and don’t make up for shortcomings in existing features. Offering hearing assistance devices helps guests who are hard of hearing but does little for guests with sensory disabilities.
FedEx Field is commendable for offering accommodations for guests with hearing difficulties. However, the Washington Commanders still have to invest in accommodations for guests with sensory disabilities. Those investments keep more guests at the games longer, catering to a customer segment that’s enthusiastic enough to attend, has money to spend on merchandise and deserves to enjoy the game as much as any other fan.