Julian Maha, M.D., founded KultureCity, the nation’s best reviewed disability nonprofit, with a special passion for his venture: his own son, who is now 10 and autistic.
“I had experience as an emergency physician and served as a medical director in Alabama,” said Dr. Maha, “but as the dad of a 10-year-old boy who is autistic and non-verbal, we started Kulture City as part of a way to help a huge population that is not able to partake of all the amazing things that our world has to offer to be able to do so.”
Maha will share some of that experience and much more as a presenter at IAVM’s GuestX, February 20-22, in Minneapolis. Specifically, the sensory inclusion initiative that makes public assembly venues inclusive for those with special needs and is being utilized today at NBA, NHL, and NFL facilities throughout the country.
“We started the company primarily because when you have a child with a disability, it’s a very fundamental isolating diagnosis,” he said. “A lot of times you are trying to figure out the right therapy for someone whose tendency is to withdraw from the community, not by choice.”
Maha shared that 1 in 5 individuals in the United States has a disability of some sort.
“Out of that 20 percent, only 16 percent have what you would call a visible disability by the Americans With Disabilities Act,” he said. “There is a huge 84 percent of the population that has what is called invisible disabilities such as autism. The list goes on and on … there is military anxiety, things like bright lights and smells that are not only overwhelming but because of a medical diagnosis can also sometimes be physically painful.
“Because of that, the tendency is to withdraw. By creating a sensory training initiative, you are basically providing venues the option to not only mitigate those things through the sensory training we provide to make their facilities more welcoming. The end result of that is from not only the social good aspect in ministering to a part of the population that has never been ministered to, but you are also enhancing the guest experience and marketing your events to 20 percent of the U.S. population that no one has ever thought about marketing to.”
Maha believes that venues are doing a good job “in the confines of what the ADA law is,” but that more can be done.
“When you look at disabilities as a whole, the fundamental challenge when you are talking about a venue is unless someone has a personal connection to the cause, why do I need to go above and beyond an ADA law?” he said. “Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. It is going to enhance the guest experience. You are going to create a much more welcoming environment. You are going to be able to understand why certain individuals are doing certain things and be able to minister to them and help them a lot better.”
Maha said a second point is that by being smart about the marketing the program, there is an opportunity to increase revenue.
“Ordinarily something might be a tough sell, but now you market it as sensory inclusive,” he said. “You can kind of cater to a population that would never be able to attend an event normally, but now because of this benefit they can buy tickets and you are enhancing your bottom line.
“The third and final thing is that you are doing it with almost no physical modifications to your venue. If there are no physical modifications, why not? Many we have worked with couple it with a nursing room. You are adding a lot more value in your whole process by doing that.”
Maha said that his company started with one arena in November 2015, but today is in 14 different NBA arenas and soon to be in five NFL stadiums. The program is also in four NHL arenas, zoos, museums, restaurants and a new contract was signed with the Pocono Raceway.
“That’s the evidence itself,” Maha said. “You look at the growth acceleration and it’s been huge. That is a testament in itself that venues have seen in partnering with us and learning more about sensory inclusion.”