Is the Pro Football Hall of Fame More Accepting of Autism Than Your Local Church?

Last week, I had the opportunity to present at Key Ministry’s Inclusion Fusion Live conference in Cleveland. It’s a decent drive from the home base in Huntington to Cleveland, but one that has you driving past the home of professional football in Canton.

It had been a long time since my last visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, some 20 years. Since my previous visit, the busts of many of my favorite players had taken up residence in the museum. I wanted to see the busts of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Peyton Manning, and others. Of course, Manning’s statue was out of town for the NFL Draft in Las Vegas. 

The Cleveland metropolitan area is also home to another hall of fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I had never been there, and I had heard it was worth the experience.

I wanted to visit one of the two halls of fame to have some leisure time and stretch my leg from the drive. Which one, though, would I visit? 

I ultimately chose the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My reasoning was simple. It was more inclusive for people like my son. Even though my children were not with me, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s small acts of inclusion tipped the scales for me. 

What stood out about the visit?

On its website, the Pro Football Hall of Fame had clear guidance on how it sought to welcome individuals with autism or other neurological disorders. The information was clear and provided ways the hall sought to provide acceptance for all people in its facility.

When you arrived at the ticket counter, you could request a sensory bag that provided small items that could help navigate the individual’s experience. The bag included sensory toys, headphones, a social story map, and sunglasses along with other items.

As you navigated the museum, clear signs alerted the visitor to when some experiences would have some increased sensory outputs. This information helps prepare the visitor to know what to expect before deciding whether to participate in an exhibit.

On the day I visited, the first day of the NFL Draft, it was a quieter trip through the hall’s museum. The lack of a crowd also helps to provide a quality experience for those on the spectrum.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame joins our list of sensory-friendly museums and attractions that make an effort to include people with disabilities. While I might have been more entertained by going through a museum I had not visited before, the fact the Pro Football Hall of Fame made an effort toward inclusion was the deciding factor in deciding whether to look at Super Bowl rings or listen to music. 

As I walked through the hall, however, I couldn’t help but realize that the Pro Football Hall of Fame was more inclusive than most churches in our connection. It didn’t assume that people would find it hospitable or welcoming. The hall made an effort to include the other in its museum and listen to their needs. The museum made sure to provide those details in accessible ways to where visitors with needs could be a part of the overall experience.

The church too often assumes that by being the church it is a welcoming and inclusive place. It often avoids making an effort to move into the neighborhood of those with disabilities and challenges to make them a part of the community.

Yet, the smallest gestures – clear information, a sensory bag, and a welcoming spirit – can make a difference in whether someone with autism or a family member of an autistic individual decides to attend your church or not.

There is something for the local church to learn from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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