By Melissa Arnold
Enjoying a movie can be a great way for the entire family to spend some quality time together. But for people who are especially sensitive to light or sound, the experience can be difficult to handle, if not impossible.
At Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station, the staff wants to ensure no one is excluded from its programs because of a lack of accessibility. Thanks to a suggestion from a visitor, the library now offers sensory-friendly movie opportunities once a month that are open to all.
“We’ve always tried to really listen to the community about the needs that they have, and this was something we’d been looking to do for a while,” said Lori Holtz, head of adult services for the Comsewogue Public Library. “We see very regular attendance for this program, which shows us that people are really enjoying the experience.”
Earlier this year, an employee from a local group home for adults approached the library suggesting they try offering sensory-friendly movie screenings, said adult services librarian Christine Parker-Morales, who added that the program has been well-received and is continuing to expand.
According to the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD), at least 1 in 20 adults in the general population may be affected by SPD. For people with these disorders, any kind of sensory stimuli — bright lights or darkness, loud sounds, intense smells, certain clothing textures — can be overwhelming, confusing or disturbing.
Setting up a sensory-friendly movie is a simple process, said Danielle Minard, the library’s outreach librarian. All that’s needed is a bit of extra planning by leaving the lights on, lowering the sound, adding captions and providing advance information about the movie’s storyline and elements. “We try to show films that are fairly current,” Minard added.
“We began the program this past March with Inside Out and since then, we’ve shown Mary Poppins Returns, Guardians of the Galaxy, Singin’ in the Rain and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” she said. In anticipation of Halloween, Tim Burton’s classic Beetlejuice was screened in September.
There are no special requirements, fees or advance registration required to see the sensory- friendly movies — all are welcome to attend.
“Libraries exist for everyone and we’re here to serve people of every age, regardless of their needs,” said Comsewogue Library Director Debra Engelhardt. “Everyone deserves quality services, and we’re continuing to learn how we can deliver those services better. I’m very proud of everyone’s hard work. I would encourage any community member to bring their interests and needs to their local library. It may take a while to get something started, but it’s our job to make good things happen for everyone who lives in the area.”
Sensory-friendly film screenings are held monthly on Friday mornings at 10:30 a.m. in the Community Room at the Comsewogue Public Library, 170 Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station. Upcoming screenings will be held Oct. 25 and Nov. 29. The films are not chosen ahead of time, but are appropriate for all ages. For more information, including additional sensory-friendly library programs, call 631-928-1212.
This article has been updated Oct. 22.