By Heather Cameron
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Family and Community Support Services has created a Spectacular Sensory Suitcase.
“The Spectacular Sensory Suitcase is an accessibility resource created by youth, for youth. Available to young people in the FCSS service area, the Suitcase includes a variety of visual, audio, and tactile resources designed that can be booked by organizations to help children and youth develop skills in self-regulation and stress management,” said Kaitlynn Weaver, Outreach Supervisor for FCSS. “The inspiration behind this project was to increase accessibility to sensory resources for youth in rural communities over the entire BEW FCSS service area. After discussions with several youth in our region, this was identified as a need for both youth with and without disabilities. This was also identified as a need by schools, particularly Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, who have been interested in constructing their very own sensory room, but haven’t been able to do so.”
Since it is a suitcase, Weaver says, it is mobile and can therefore be transported to schools, churches, recreation facilities, or any other child/youth-serving organization.
The Suitcase is available to youth both with and without disabilities, as sensory resources can be beneficial to everyone. The Suitcase will be available to be booked by organizations in the FCSS service area in 2024.
“This project exists to fill the gap of available sensory resources in rural communities that can assist youth in self-regulating their behaviours, developing processing skills, managing stress, or simply relaxing,” said Weaver. “We hope that with time, it will also increase awareness surrounding the importance of sensory resources and the positive impact they can have on youth. The Spectacular Sensory Suitcase includes an Educational Toolkit and Users Guide to help teach users the purpose and importance of the resources that are included.”
Recently, Weaver says, students at Kate Andrews High School were able to access the sensory equipment at the front office area in a private space, and as final exams approached, teachers were able to sign-out equipment for their students to use in class. Teachers and students were also able to complete a short survey to provide feedback on equipment and if there is anything else they would like to see included in the Spectacular Sensory Suitcase.
“Once testing is completed, we will be making any necessary changes and/or additions to the Suitcase based on the feedback we have received,” said Weaver.
The Spectacular Sensory Suitcase, Weaver says, will then be available to be booked online by organizations or schools through the FCSS website.
Weaver says that there will be one located in each region that BEW FCSS serves, County of Warner, M.D. of Taber, and Lethbridge County.
“Between bookings, all equipment will be sanitized and recharged in preparation for its next users. This project is important as it aims to improve accessibility in rural regions,” said Weaver. “It is also a project that has been led by youth, for youth. This helped to ensure that the project was relevant to youth’s current needs and includes materials that youth will enjoy and find valuable. We are also hoping that this project will increase awareness about the importance of providing sensory resources to assist with youth’s mental health, anxiety, and stress management.”
This project, Weaver says, has also allowed the Youth DO Crew to learn more about accessibility and tangible strategies to decrease barriers, and the reactions to this project have been overwhelmingly positive.
“Children, youth, and adults alike enjoy using the equipment and recognize its benefits,” said Weaver. “The equipment has recently been used in a few different FCSS programs as well, where the feedback has been positive. Schools in the BEW FCSS service area have been extremely supportive with the project’s development, having students complete the initial Needs Assessment Survey asking the kind of resources and equipment students would like to see included in the Spectacular Sensory Suitcase.”
This project, Weaver says, has been funded through Employment and Social Development Canada’s Enabling Accessibility Fund, specifically the Youth Innovation Component, and to receive this fund, youth had to identify gaps to accessibility in their communities and come up with a project idea to address these gaps.
Once the project was identified, Weaver says, a grant proposal was written and submitted.
“We were very fortunate to receive funding for this project and thus have the opportunity to reduce accessibility barriers,” said Weaver. “This project will positively impact children and youth, particularly those with disabilities or who are experiencing stress, grief, anxiety, or depression.”
For more information about the project or the Youth DO Crew, Weaver says that people are welcome to contact Jillian Boyd at (403) 332-0629 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.