Various sample swatches of the Muirhead Sensation collection. Subtle tones of grey, blue, yellow and peach.

Muirhead promotes accessibility with neurodiverse-friendly seat covers

Details and Design banner with text on graph paper backgroundIt’s not uncommon for individuals in the neurodivergent community and those with cognitive disabilities to experience sensory overload in vibrant, bustling public spaces, including at airports. But loud noises, strong smells, bright lights, intense colours, and busy patterns can also prove overwhelming in-flight. How can the onboard environment be made more accessible to individuals living with non-visible disabilities?

Enter Scottish aviation leather supplier Muirhead, which has just unveiled its vision for neurodiverse-friendly aircraft seat covers. Dubbed Sensation, the pioneering collection of materials features a soothing monochromatic palette of greens, blues, and neutrals to evoke a calming atmosphere. Other key features include a variety of bespoke leather embosses, highlighting the importance of textures in curating a multi-sensory experience for neurodivergent travellers.

Many online forums discuss the colour and pattern sensitivity of individuals on the autism spectrum or whose brains simply process information in an atypical way, with one Reddit user aptly describing the conundrum: “Certain stickers and t-shirt patterns always made me feel uncomfortable. If we were eating and someone was wearing a shirt with a particularly garish print, I would have to stop eating immediately to avoid nausea.”

Various sample swatches of the Muirhead Sensation collection. Here one can see a soothing monochromatic palette of greens, blues, and neutrals to evoke a calming atmosphere.

With Sensation, designers are being asked by Muirhead to consider natural materials, soothing colours, as well as patterns and textures in designing inclusive and accessible aircraft seating. Image: Muirhead

To guide its own design process, Muirhead says it worked closely with Scottish disability consultancy VIA, conducted extensive research, and spoke directly with neurodivergent individuals who have faced barriers while travelling.

“Air travel can be overwhelming for anyone, but especially for neurodivergent individuals who tend to have heightened sensitivities compared to neurotypical travellers. Seat covers play a vital role in providing them with comfort and a sense of security, enabling them to better regulate their emotions onboard,” says Muirhead designer Jamie O’Donnell in a statement.

O'Donnell showcases the material for the Murihead seat covers. This swatch happens to be a light blue color. Various details and swatches of the collection are on the wall behind O'Donnell.

The project underscores the importance of material choice in creating inclusive seating, as neurodivergent individuals often favour natural materials as they offer a less invasive sensory experience than synthetic alternatives. Here O’Donnell showcases the material. Image: Muirhead

O’Donnell continues, “While the industry is making strides towards accessible and inclusive cabin design, many current approaches tend to be overly medicalised or infantilising towards adults with non-visible disabilities. The inclusive cabin of the future must balance functionality with aesthetic appeal.”

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Muirhead will showcase Sensation on 28-30 May at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, with the aim of inspiring CMF (color, materials, finish) designers as they envision the future of people-focused aircraft cabins. There, visitors will be able to learn more about the colours, textures and patterns of the Sensation design trend and experience Muirhead’s interactive sensory room.

Notably, Muirhead also now offers completed seat covers to industry, offering an end-to-end service that simplifies the supply chain.

As we celebrate Autism Awareness Month, which runs through 30 April, let’s take a moment to applaud the Scottish firm for its inclusive innovation.

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Featured image credited to Muirhead