If there are any positives to have come from the pandemic, surely one of them is that it’s opened our eyes that bit wider to how physical and mental health needs affect how we experience the world – be that virtually or for real.
Millions of people in the UK live with conditions that directly impact how they engage with or enjoy experiences. But only when their needs are properly understood can us ‘creators‘ of experiences begin to be truly inclusive – executing with specific requirements in mind. A more sensory experience might, for example, resonate better with people who have autism or who live with multiple sclerosis (MS). Meanwhile, cystic fibrosis and immune diseases heighten the need for crucial considerations around cleanliness and choice of surroundings.
It’s been said that you have to walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you can even begin to judge their situation. And maybe we as an industry haven’t yet been eager enough to venture as far down that road as we could. The list of physical events that have proven irrelevant to – or at least inconsiderate of – people with particular health needs is desperately long. But we have the knowledge and technology, now more than ever, to do something about it – to slip on those shoes in an effort to gain as much empathy and understanding as we possibly can, giving us a fighting chance of getting it right.
At Momentum, we recently partnered with the science and tech company Merck, to create a dual-element experience that used both VR and physical stimuli to provide unprecedented insight into the total emotional and physical impact MS can have. A condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, MS can cause problems with vision, balance and movement, and can affect how those that live with it think and feel.
Such symptoms can be hard to describe or imagine, yet ninety-five per cent of those who took part in the experience claimed to have come away with a deeper understanding of MS as a direct result. Technology providing first-hand insight like never before, then. And proof that tech has the power to enable a glimpse at the world through other people’s frame of reference – just as it can enable us to create experiences that are more inclusive to all.
As the race to perfect ‘virtual‘ has had to find new gears, the options available to those who must be mindful of their physical environment have exploded. With music artists, stage shows and immersive experiences all rushing online over the past year, the door to this world has been opened to people who previously might never have been able to consume such things firsthand. But ‘taking it online’ isn’t where the solution begins and ends. Virtual must be designed with physical needs in mind – think breaks to allow for a readjustment of seating positions or to stretch legs, maybe to get a drink or a much-needed snack to keep energy and salt levels up.
Likewise, as we edge out of lockdown and hybrid replaces pure-play physical or virtual as the universally accepted norm – it’s so important that we start applying this heightened level of consciousness to real-world environments too.
I’m proud to say that one of my colleagues has created a club night that’s designed to be especially welcoming to adults with physical and learning disabilities. ‘Under One Roof’, which takes place in Manchester and Liverpool, is a club night, complete with all the atmosphere you’d expect: loud music, flashing lights and a whole lot of dancing. But, crucially, it’s held in a wheelchair-accessible nightclub, with lower ticket capacities. This allows for more space and staff who are briefed on any specific requirements attendees may have in order for them to feel entirely comfortable and welcome in an environment many adults are sadly only experiencing for the first time in their lives.
If empathy and understanding are on the rise following recent events – and I really hope they are – we should be harnessing that, promoting a second-nature approach to creating holistic experiences that exclude no-one and are designed to be relevant, as far as possible, across the board. After all, experiences provide connection, escapism and fulfilment, and everyone deserves that – especially right now.
Kev Exley, executive creative director at Momentum Worldwide