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Calming Place: Newark Liberty Terminal A’s Sensory Room For Neurodivergent Passengers

Author Justin Foster
Date January 8, 2024

The new space is meant to ease travel stress for passing through travelers.

In December of last year, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey unveiled one of the newest and unique additions to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). In the airport’s Terminal A, the Port Authority opened a new sensory room. The room was designed to ease stress for passengers who travel through the New Jersey-based airport. The room is located before TSA checkpoints and is a 1,000-square-foot space as part of the airport’s recent upgrades to the new Terminal A.

Sensory room

The sensory room is located in the airport’s Terminal A, which has a unique design that includes imagery to honor New Jersey’s nickname of the Garden State and offers tributes to the various ecosystems and landmarks in New Jersey. Therefore, the sensory room branched off from this design. The newly opened sensory room includes a colored carpet that symbolizes a flowing river, sandy shores, and dark green grass. Additionally, murals on the wall and other decorations represent calming aspects of nature, as the room also includes a large saltwater fish tank.

Photo: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

This aesthetic is meant to provide passengers with a calming ambiance. The room also features activities designed for neurodivergent travelers or travelers who are on the autism spectrum. These activities give affected travelers a break from the stress and hustle of air travel. Some of these activities include bubble tubes for tactile and visual stimulation and other sensory stimuli.

Per the Port Authority, the sensory room was designed in conjunction with PGAL architects and the Anderson Center for Autism. The Vice Chairman of the Port Authority, Jeffrey Lynford, spoke about the new room after the ribbon-cutting celebration for Terminal A in November 2022. Lynford stated,

“When you take an autistic child through an airport, that is tactically and orally defensive. In other words, sound and touch, they don’t know how to respond, and usually their behavior becomes erratic. If you have a ‘timeout place,’ if you have a sensory room, it will really help the entire family deal with travel through the airport.”

Lynford has a daughter on the autism spectrum, so opening this room was important to him. His wife is also the chairperson of the Anderson Center for Autism.

Plans for an additional sensory room

The Port Authority is currently developing plans for a second sensory room, also in conjunction with PGAL and the Anderson Center for Autism, which will also be located in Terminal A, although past the existing security checkpoints. This will allow travelers to encounter a calmer experience after going through security.

Photo: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

The second sensory room will include an aircraft cabin to help passengers acclimate to the space as they prepare to board an actual aircraft. The replica cabin will include seats, seatbelts, monitors, and similar lighting. The rest of the second sensory room will have similar themes to the first sensory room. It will include a large ocean-themed space with a fish tank, calming music, and soft areas to sit. Both of these sensory rooms are meant to improve the accessibility of the airport for neurodivergent travelers or passengers who are on the autism spectrum.