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This Entrepreneur Wants To Make Saint John The World’s First ‘Sensory Friendly’ City

Christel Seeberger, founder of Sensory Friendly Solutions. Image: Kelly Lawson/ Submitted

SAINT JOHN– When Christel Seeberger was diagnosed with mild-moderate hearing loss about a year ago, she soon realized how she went about in the world would change forever.

“I now wear hearing aids. I have the best possible hearing aids, and yet there are places I won’t go and things I won’t do because I can’t participate when I get there,” she says.

Some places where she went she experienced sensory overload. For people who are sensory sensitive, certain businesses and events are just too noisy to go to without some serious planning.

But Seeberger knew she was far from alone. A practicing occupational therapist for more than 25 years, she’s worked one-on-one with many different people that have those challenges due to a variety of causes.

“Especially in the last while, I’ve been helping a lot of people with autism and PTSD, concussions and older adults with hearing loss, and a lot of mental health challenges,” says Seeberger.

“The world is too busy, too noisy and too bright. There’s only so much we can do and accomplish one-by-one with people in this world that is really becoming too busy and too noisy.”

Seeberger hopes that her new business, Sensory Friendly Solutions, will help take support to the next level.

The business has two parts. The first part is an app which is currently being developed with the help of $25,000 Seeberger recently won from Enterprise Saint John’s Innovation Challenge. The app will help people find spaces, businesses, and events that are sensory-friendly or have sensory friendly options or times.

“Right now, that information is really not available. You might find out by trial and error. There are a few things out there. Google does have busy times, but you really have to dive deep,” says Seeberger. “I want to put a platform together that people can find sensory friendly information. People looking for it can find it, talk about it and can share it.”

The other part of the business is consulting, which is already happening. Seeberger is helping business, organizations, venues, and events become more sensory friendly and/or promote what they are doing.

“People are realizing that there are things that they are already doing and things they can do more of that really improve the customer experience,” she says. “That group of people … that’s a large group of people. That’s around 12 million Canadians. That’s almost a third of the population. It’s not a small group of people, and they’re growing.”

Seeberger says a lot of businesses are already doing sensory-friendly things, but they just don’t promote it. Even if they are not currently doing anything, getting started is simple.

“It’s not always complicated and there are things people already do,” she says. “There are little things they can do to be more sensory friendly.”

Some examples include parades having a “quiet zone” on its route where music and lights are turned down, something the Kennebecasis Valley Santa Claus Parade already does. Often events of all sizes include “quiet spaces” for people to go to. Meanwhile, some grocery stores in Australia have designated quiet shopping hours.

“They take advantage of already slow times and all you have to go is turn the music down a little bit, you adjust the lights, you turn the cash register noises down, and folks know that this is the quiet shopping hour,” says Seeberger. “It’s [takes] a little bit of staff training and it just makes the people who want that when they go shopping know that it’s available.”

Seeberger’s newest client is the Enactus UNB/STU. She will be working with them to promote sensory friendly initiatives for students as part of the development of the app.

“Like all the places, spaces or events I am working with on the app, many of them are already doing good things around improving the experience of their own customers,” she says. “Enactus is an example of a group that wants me and my app to help them be even more sensory friendly.”

Seeberger says providing and advertising sensory friendly options makes good sense for businesses and organizations.

“I know many businesses care very much about their customer experience. For me, I want to know from them what they are already doing. Let’s share that. Let’s share what we’re already doing,” she says. “Some people just don’t know how or want to do more, or build on what they’re already doing. Let me help you.”

As her business grows, she hopes to see Saint John lead the way in this area.

“I want Saint John to be the first sensory-friendly city in the world,” says Seeberger. “Let’s start here because this is the amazing place where people help.”