Posted on

Sensory kits help make sporting events more inclusive for people with sensory challenges

Sensory kits help make sporting events more inclusive for people with sensory challenges

Sports are for everyone. 

That was the message being reinforced by the Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) when they introduced their new inclusion program on last August. 

According to a Calgary Flames Foundation press release, the program will help create a better sense of inclusion and opportunity to participate in sports for the “BIPOC individuals, people with disabilities, women and girls and the LGBTQ+ community.” 

One of the many initiatives added to the inclusion program was availability of The Assist Sensory Kits, created by Paige Dowd and Kodette LaBarbera. 

These kits give people who are on the spectrum or others coping with sensory challenges the opportunity to enjoy CSEC events in a comfortable and stress-free environment. They are located at guest services at the Scotiabank Saddledome and McMahon Stadium and are currently free to use at all Calgary Flames, Hitmen, Roughnecks, and Stampeders games.

Lyndon Parakin, the executive director of Autism Calgary, understands the importance of creating a sense of inclusion and comfort in public spaces for those on the spectrum. After all, Parakin has spent the last 16 years providing assistance to those who have navigated a life on the spectrum and or their family members through systems of support and peer networking offered at Autism Calgary.

Kodette LaBarbera (left) poses with her husband, Jason (top-right), and her two sons, Ryder (center) and Easton (bottom-right). PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: KATIE STAJAN

However, that fear of judgment lessens when venues like Scotiabank Saddledome or McMahon Stadium strive to make their events more inclusive for all communities. The change is a step in the right direction.

“It’s incredibly welcoming. I think it kind of represents a change in public understanding of making events more open to everybody. To diversity in general,” says Parakin.

“To be in a venue where diversity is celebrated and there are deliberate offerings to give accommodations for people with differences. You can ask for support, you can ask for help. You don’t have to have an uncertainty that people are going to be judgmental or critical.”

Co-creator of the Assist Sensory Kit, Kodette LaBarbera, also knows about the struggles a person with sensory challenges can experience. Her 13-year-old son, Ryder, was diagnosed with autism when he was just three years old. 

“I know at least with Ryder, all his senses are heightened. He can hear so much, everything is so loud to him. His eyesight, his smell, his everything.”

Cue the sensory kits. These kits come with a variety of items, including a foam puck, specialized headphones, fidget toys, crayons, sunglasses, sanitary items, and activity sheets. All of these items are meant to help guests feel comfortable by diminishing the louder aspects of the events.

The Assist Sensory Kits provide an assortment of items including but not limited to crayons, wet wipes, fidget toys, a foam puck, headphones, and a social story. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: KODETTE LABARBERA

However, one of the more interesting items in the kit involves a booklet, called a social story, that explains exactly what goes on at the event in order to prepare the person for what’s to come. 

In LaBarbera’s eyes, this is one of the more important items in the kit for Ryder.

“If you have a child or you’re supporting a loved one on the spectrum and they’re facing stresses that other people around them might not understand, you kind of fear that judgment.”

Lyndon Parakin

“For my family personally, [the social story] is one of the biggest key points to it because explaining what’s going to happen really sets Ryder up for more success.”

While the social story does an excellent job at prepping the person on what to expect at the event, Parakin also believes the booklet can also be beneficial for the person’s loved ones or caregiver.

The kit also helps LaBarbera at events like hockey games, as she is often tasked with balancing Ryder’s needs with the needs of her younger son, Easton, who is 10. 

“For my younger son, who is a typical child and sports-obsessed, it starts to wear on him [because] he’s limited now. He wants to stay in the stands and watch the game, but Ryder’s not capable,” says LaBarbera. 

“Everybody and their family just want to feel normal, and that they belong and fit in and they can go about life essentially.”

Ryder LaBarbera (left) sits next to his brother, Easton (right), wearing matching ‘Ryder’s Crew’ shirts. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: KODETTE LABARBERA

Since their introduction at the start of the Flames, Hitmen, and Roughnecks seasons, Dowd and LaBarbera’s kits have found a considerable amount of success within the Scotiabank Saddledome. The Flames have approached LaBarbera with more and more orders as their kits — which are no charge at CSEC events and are free to take home after — are in constant demand from guests. 

LaBarbera has received nothing but great responses from families and individuals who have used their kits at a CSEC event. 

“It’s reassuring to a lot of families and it’s like, ‘Okay, you know what? We can wear this kit and my son can wear these headphones at the rink and no one’s going to think anything of it,’” says LaBarbera.

While the kits have found continued success at CSEC events, there is lots of room to expand. Parakin believes that there is a use for sensory kits just about anywhere. 

“I think anywhere where there is a gathering of the public and things we take for granted, maybe in some sort of spiritual facilities, churches, synagogues and mosques. Maybe in the grocery store,” says Parakin

As for the Assist Sensory Kits, LaBarbera hopes to expand to reach more audiences globally and locally. This would include getting more professional-level teams to include the sensory kits at their venues while donating kits to local hockey rinks, even malls and theatres.

Republish our articles for free under a Creative Commons license.

Close window

Republish this article

We would love for you to republish our student work!

Just scroll down to copy and paste the code of our article into your CMS. The codes for images, graphics and other embeddable elements may not transfer exactly as they appear on our site.

It’s free! We only ask that you follow some simple guidelines when doing so:

  • You’ve gotta credit us. In the byline, we prefer “Author Name, Calgary Journal.” At the top of the story, include a line that reads: “This story was originally published by the Calgary Journal.”

  • If you’re republishing online, you must link to the URL of the original story on

  • You can’t edit our material, except to reflect relative changes in time, location and editorial style. (For example, “yesterday” can be changed to “last week,” and “Abbotsford, B.C.” to “Abbotsford” or “here.”)

  • You cannot republish our photographs or illustrations without specific permission. Please contact managing for more information.

  • Any website our stories appear on must include a prominent way to contact you.

  • If you share the story on social media, we’d appreciate a shout-out @CalgaryJournal (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram)

  • If we send a request to change or remove Calgary Journal content on your site, you must agree to do so immediately.

This policy was adapted from ProPublica and Wisconsin Watch.

If you have any other questions, contact our managing editor Archie McLean at


Posted on

Orillia’s library celebrating Pride Month with inclusive events

Orillia's library celebrating Pride Month with inclusive events

‘We wish to create an environment at the library where everyone feels included,’ says library CEO of unique in-person programs planned for June




June is Pride Month, and the Orillia Public Library will be presenting two special programs for community members of all ages.

“We wish to create an environment at the library that celebrates diversity and where everyone feels included,” said Bessie Sullivan, Library CEO. “We are excited to be able to welcome everyone back to the library for in-person programs.”

The Library is pleased to offer a Drag Queen Storytime on Saturday, June 11 at 10: 30 a.m., with special guest Auntie Plum. This free, family-oriented literacy program will instill a love of books and reading for children and their families through an imaginative storytelling experience. Registration is not required, but space will be limited and may fill up quickly.

To continue the celebrations, Auntie Plum will transform into Plum Vicious on Saturday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m. for a unique after-hours evening performance. Plum has been performing at venues across Canada for the past 23 years. She is also an Elected Empress of the Imperial Court of Toronto, a social organization that raises funds for charities across North America. 

Tickets for this 19+ licensed event are $20 with all proceeds from the event going towards enhancing the Library’s LGBTQ2S+ collections. Tickets are available for purchase online: or in-person at the Library. Photo opportunities with Plum Vicious will be available after the show.

Please call the Library at 705-325-2338 or visit their website for more information.


Posted on

Stepping Up Your Inclusive Marketing in 2022

Screen Shot 2022-04-01 at 2.13.56 PM.png

Digital marketing has taken over the business world by storm as today’s consumers rely on the internet to research brands and make purchasing decisions. And it’s particularly true for the event industry, where visuals reign supreme and the average buyer has grown up with technology at their fingertips. 

But just as the digital landscape has evolved, the market’s values and influencing factors have also changed. As a result, brand messaging that worked in the early aughts or even the ‘10s feel outdated and, in some cases, downright offensive today. 

People have grown in empathy, compassion, and understanding for others, and in that, they expect the businesses they support to follow suit.  

Rethink the way you speak. 

Those who identify within perceived “majorities” (think white, heteronormative, cisgender, non-disabled, etc.) often don’t think about the impact of their words, as they come from a place of privilege—even if there is nothing but kind-hearted intentions. So, while the term “bridal party” may seem commonplace to a cishet wedding pro, it can feel like a separating term for LGBTQ+ couples. 

In marketing especially, words matter—and they can be the difference between an enthusiastic booking and a lost lead. By rethinking your vocabulary and the way you communicate through social media, emails, ads, and other channels, you can create a space that invites all people. 

This isn’t just for reaching individuals in underrepresented communities, either. Today’s consumer is mindful of a brand’s messaging and how it could impact their friends and family within such groups, even if they do not share those identities. Inclusivity is a driving factor for the modern buyer, and it’s up to businesses to meet expectations. 

Accept your mistakes as lessons. 

Rewiring your biases and beliefs can be difficult, so accept that you will slip up from time to time. Much like you’ve made mistakes as a business owner, it’s all a part of growth.  

With that said, it’s not so much about the error but how you handle it. You may feel shame or embarrassment from using the wrong pronoun or phrase, but it’s essential that you accept it with grace, apologize, and learn from it.  

Making excuses, doubling down on a mistake, or pretending like it never happened all demonstrate privilege rather than a willingness to grow. Additionally, being overly apologetic has now made the situation be about your discomfort, and may cause the other person to feel like they need to comfort or educate you, neither of which is their responsibility. Instead, return to your innate empathy and compassion, remain humble, move on, and consider it a lesson learned. 

Avoid tokenism and appropriation. 

Diversity is expected, but there is such a thing as trying “too hard.” Tokenism is the act of marketing to specific subgroups using a limited number of people from that group. For instance, marketing to the disabled community using the same mixed-ability couple for years would be a prime example of tokenism.  

Appropriation, on the other hand, is the act of claiming elements of an underrepresented group as your own. For example, stating that you love same-sex weddings because your favorite cousin is gay does little to relate to the LGBTQ+ community; instead, it only highlights the differences you perceive in a prospect or client. 

While tokenism and appropriation involve different missteps, they are two sides of the same coin. Both come from a place of inauthenticity, as if someone’s identity determines whether or not they are a fit for your business. Rather than focus on differences (even with good intentions), embrace the art of listening and ask questions that get to the root of a client’s needs—regardless of race, gender, orientation, size, or other characteristics. 

Bring your team on board. 

One equality-minded person in a company of many can only make so much of a difference. A truly inclusive brand (and marketing strategy) is one led by a team of people who share the same values and commit to cultivating a welcoming environment for all. 

In many wedding businesses, several people have their hands in the marketing mix—and all it takes is one poorly-timed social media post or ill-worded email to turn market perception sour. Thus, investing in your team’s D&I education is an investment in the sustainability of your business and the comfort of all future prospects and clients. 

There are countless workshops, courses, and other educational tools available for team support, both virtual and in-person.  

So whether you’re planning for a website revamp or your social media accounts need a messaging overhaul, take the time to learn and reflect on what inclusivity means to you, your business, and your clients. Your efforts must come from the heart; otherwise, any measures will feel inauthentic and, at worst, like tokenism or appropriation. Start from within and work on optimizing your marketing approach from there. 

Posted on

Xometry Champions Inclusive Leadership With Two ‘Xometry Live’ Events

Xometry Champions Inclusive Leadership With Two 'Xometry Live' Events

ROCKVILLE, Md., March 04, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Xometry, the global digital marketplace for on-demand manufacturing, today announced two “Xometry Live” virtual events designed to celebrate and champion inclusive leadership in manufacturing.

Renowned independent journalist, filmmaker and former PBS NewsHour and CNN talent Miles O’Brien, an expert on technology, science, and aerospace, joins the first Xometry Live event, “Accessible Design with 3D Printing: Designing Products for People with Disabilities.” The event takes place at 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 8. Joining O’Brien are Amin Hasani and Jed Tango, Co-Founders of CURVD and Blue Heart Hero, as well as Greg Paulsen, Director of Application Engineering at Xometry. Together, they will discuss the importance of designing and manufacturing inclusive products to aid people with disabilities.

Xometry is partnering with innovative nonprofit Blue Heart Hero on a nationwide contest to encourage engineers, designers, and out-of-the-box thinkers to create designs for 3D-printable assistive devices. The theme of the contest is kitchen accessibility, making cooking and baking easier for those with upper limb differences. As a sponsor, Xometry will help select the contest winner and manufacture their products using 3D printing. The designs will be evaluated on Best Problem-solving Design, Smallest Solution, Best Sketch, Best Presentation, and additional categories. For more details on Blue Heart Hero’s Xometry sponsored contest, please visit the Blue Heart Hero website.

Separately, Xometry and the Women in Manufacturing Association (WiM) will host a Xometry Live webinar, “Advancing Women in Manufacturing,” which will take place at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 10. Leading the discussion will be Cathy Ma, VP of Platform Growth & Engagement at Xometry; Allison Grealis, President and Founder of WiM; Pravina Raghavan, Director of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP); Rose Célestin, Manager of Procurement Operations at CareFirst; Sophia MacDonald, Chief People Officer at Xometry, and Kathy Mayerhofer, Chief Sales Officer at Xometry. Together, they will offer insights, lessons learned and concrete steps all organizations can take to ensure greater diversity in manufacturing. Attendees also will get an inside look at the latest findings from Xometry’s second annualCareer Advancement in Manufacturing Report.

To sign up for the Xometry and WiM webinar, please visit

About Xometry

Xometry (NASDAQ:XMTR) powers the industries of today and tomorrow by connecting the people with the big ideas to the manufacturers who can bring them to life. Xometry’s digital marketplace makes it easy for buyers at Fortune 1000 companies to tap into global manufacturing capacity while giving suppliers the critical resources they need to grow their business. Xometry is home to Thomas, a leader in product sourcing, supplier selection and marketing solutions for industry, and the popular platform.

Media Contacts

Matthew Hutchison

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at

Primary Logo

Posted on

University events focus on inclusive community

University events focus on inclusive community

Two University of Dayton events will draw the public into discussion of how to create a more just, equitable and united community.

The Common Good in a Divided City,” April 1-3, will focus on the need for regional solidarity — an issue championed by Bro. Raymond Fitz, a religious and community leader and the University’s longest serving president. 

“‘Common good’ refers to Catholic belief that each person’s fulfillment requires both contributing to the wellbeing of others and receiving from their flourishing. Our fulfillment is something we have together or we don’t have it at all,” said Kelly Johnson, the University’s Fr. Ferree Chair of Social Justice and a conference organizer. “The challenge is our cities, with structures like municipal boundaries and school districts, are set up so that we experience our good as divided, even in competition, not shared. 

“Bro. Ray has been making this crucial point that we need to work on regional solidarity and mutual belonging if we want to build up the common good and we want to continue his action.”

The conference will bring together faith leaders, activists, policy-makers, scholars, community organizers and the general public. The goal is to foster relationships and inform a conversation about regional solidarity, acknowledging the histories and structures that divide the region, with particular attention to the roles of race and faith.

Imagining Community: Shaping a More Equitable Dayton,” April 7-8 at the Dayton Arcade, was inspired by the UnDesign the Redline exhibit, which was on display at UD in October at Roesch Library. It will explore the history, legacy and impact of Dayton’s racial segregation, and how to move toward a more just, equitable and inclusive Dayton.

“This will be an inclusive conversation,” said Leslie Picca, Roesch Chair in the Social Sciences and a symposium organizer. “Together we will look at problems of the past to find ways to organize for a better future.”

Both events will feature noted speakers. 

On regional solidarity: Korie Little Edwards, of The Ohio State University, will draw from her research on interracial religious congregations to consider the possibilities and challenges of religious responses to urban racial divides; Richard L. Woods, of University of New Mexico, will consider how church involvement in community organizing can transform attitudes and actions concerning race and racism; and Maureen O’Connell, of LaSalle University, will trace her Catholic family’s entanglements with race and racism from the time they immigrated to America to the present.

On an equitable Dayton, there will be more than 30 concurrent sessions featuring local artists, community organizers, faith communities and scholars. Keynote ShaDawn Battle, of Xavier University, will speak about Chicago Footwork, an embodied street dance of resistance and liberation. Plenary sessions will focus on resisting erasure in indigenous Ohio, and the history and context of community organizing.

Both events are free and open to the public. Registration information is available on the event websites.