Trinity College Dublin unveiled a series of new spaces on campus that have been designed as supportive sensory environments to meet the needs of students and staff.
The plans were devised by TCD Sense – The Trinity Sensory Processing Project – which aims to make Trinity more inclusive by reviewing and improving new and existing spaces, building sensory awareness and delivering specialist supports to students who experience barriers to managing and adapting to the sensory environments of college.
The project currently spans more than 80 study spaces in the Library, sensory areas within four student social spaces, as well as individual sensory rooms. Hundreds of students are using these spaces every day, but much more is to come.
Since the project was begun in 2019 by staff in the Disability Service and Discipline of Occupational Therapy, TCD Sense has developed strong partnerships with the TCD Students Union, the Trinity Ability Coop, as well as staff in the Library and the science laboratories and with numerous other areas across Trinity.
Jessica K Doyle, TCD Sense Project Officer, said:
“We are all sensory beings, and although we may not always be fully aware of it, sensation is everywhere. Sometimes we may crave activity and movement, louder music and natural light and brighter colours. At other times, we might feel extra sensitive and prefer quieter spaces with dim lighting and less going on. Everyone has a unique sensory system and ways of perceiving and processing sensation that can change depending on time, context, mood, energy levels, neurotype & mechanism of perception”.
Kieran Lewis, Senior Occupational Therapist at Trinity, said:
“We are focusing on areas which students use most. Over the past number of months, as well as the spaces in the Library, we have designed sensory areas within four student social spaces, as well as individual sensory rooms. These have been designed to enable students to engage fully in the college environments and to allow for individuals’ different sensory preferences”.
User experience research by the Library with students highlighted the impact of the sensory environment on wellbeing and productivity; lighting, noise and sanctuary affect student comfort in library spaces, especially students who experience sensory overload and have high awareness of the sensory environment. These findings are reinforced by further research by the Disability Service and Discipline of Occupational Therapy, which included a sensory audit of Library buildings.
Helen Shenton, Librarian and College Archivist at Trinity, said:
“As part of this collaborative University initiative TCD Sense, the Library has created six sensory spaces across the Berkeley, Lecky, Ussher, Hamilton and Stearne libraries which will support our students and staff with diverse sensory needs. Another five will be completed in the coming weeks. 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.”
In May 2019, 150 students registered with the Disability Service in TCD completed a survey on sensory experiences:
- 68% reported that there is no quiet space on campus that they can access easily if feeling overwhelmed
- Over 50% commented that they go home/leave campus if feeling overwhelmed
- 93% would use a quiet space if it was available in the library
- 49% reported difficulty with acoustics (e.g. noises, echoes, humming) in the library
- 41% reported difficulty with acoustics in lectures.
This development is being part funded from a €5.4 million fund for students with disabilities announced by Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris earlier this year. Trinity has used €233,934 of its allocation of €482,364 on these developments. Additional resources of €126,500 have come from the Trinity Library, TCDSU and the Director of Student Services.
Trinity Provost Linda Doyle welcomed the new spaces:
“This has been a return to campus like no other, at a time when students and staff have been under unprecedented stress. It’s more important now than ever that everyone in the College community has access to places around the campus where they can find respite to focus, or to relax in peace. The TCD Sense Project is a wonderful addition to our campus and will contribute to the health and wellbeing of all.”
Trinity Student Union 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.”
Dr Clodagh Nolan, Asst. Professor, Discipline of Occupational Therapy added:
“Learning and social environments are fraught with sensory information that needs to be processed and managed by individuals. For some it can be overwhelming whereas for others it can be underwhelming. 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 whether those activities include study, research, or social engagement. 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.”
Declan Treanor, Director of the Trinity Disability Services, said:
“We have identified making Trinity a more inclusive place from a sensory perspective as a key aim in The Disability Service’s Strategic Plan for 2020-2025. Plans are underway to look at 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. We are looking at indoor and outdoor opportunities. We are also developing a sensory environment evaluation tool in collaboration with Technological University Dublin”.
More information on the supports and resources available in managing the sensory environment and on the project can be found here.