Trinity College Dublin has created a series of new spaces on its city centre campus that have been designed as supportive sensory environments for students and staff.
The spaces are designed to provide relaxing and calming conditions for their users and the project currently spans more than 80 study spaces across the university.
These spaces are located in the library within four other student social spaces, as well as individual sensory rooms. The plans were devised by TCD Sense - The Trinity Sensory Processing Project - and the spaces are already being used by hundreds of students each day.
Kieran Lewis, senior occupational therapist at Trinity, said the focus was being placed 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,” he said.
The TCD Sense project was started in 2019 by staff in the Disability Service and Occupational Therapy and has involved the TCD Students Union, the Trinity Ability Coop, as well as staff in the library and the science laboratories.
Welcoming the new spaces, Trinity Provost Linda Doyle said the recent return to campus has been a return "like no other" and that it happened 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,” she said.
The project is part-funded from a €5.4 million fund for students with disabilities announced by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris earlier this year.
The college 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.
In May 2019, 150 students registered with the disability service in TCD completed a survey on sensory experiences:
Of those who participated, 68 per cent reported that there is no quiet space on campus that they can access easily if feeling overwhelmed while more than 50 per cent said they go home/leave campus if feeling overwhelmed.
An overwhelming 93 per cent said they would use a quiet space if it was available in the library while 49 per cent reported difficulty with acoustics (such as noises, echoes, humming) in the library and 41 per cent of par reported difficulty with acoustics in lectures.
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".
Trinity Student Union president Leah Keogh said the attention to detail is what has made the project "so effective".
“This project has set the benchmark for what our student spaces should be going forward,” she added.
Declan Treanor, director of the Trinity Disability Services, said the college is looking at other spaces with a view to developing them.
“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”.