Sensory Inclusion Certification: It’s all about breaking down barriers to equitable access for all

October 14, 2020

At Seneca Park Zoo, we want every member of our community to feel they are welcome from the moment they arrive – or even before, when visiting our website.

We all know someone who is on the autism spectrum.  We likely all know someone who suffers from PTSD.  And some of us care for people with sensory issues as a result of a stroke, or dementia.    We might think a day at the Zoo would be a perfect outing, because we know it to be a place where our blood pressure falls, our breathing evens, and we feel a sense of calm as we encounter nature.

But for the one in six members of our community that have sensory issues, the Zoo can be an overwhelming and overstimulating experience – one that can lead to frustration and even fear as they struggle to make sense of the sights and sounds and smells.  For people with sensory issues, it isn’t just that being in crowds makes them uncomfortable, or that loud sounds are jarring, or bright lights annoying.  Rather, these things can make it difficult to make sense of the world.

To make the Zoo accessible for this large segment of the population, we had to look at these obstacles and find ways to ameliorate them.  For us, and a growing number of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the answer was becoming certified as Sensory Inclusive by KultureCity.

KultureCity has trained all our team members and much of our volunteer corps.  They’ve provided sensory kits that include noise-cancelling headphones and verbal cue cards families can borrow when visiting.  They’ve helped us identify places on site where our guests might want to use those headphones, and other places where a family that needs a bit of a time out can pull off the path and rest for a bit.  They’ve helped us with providing social stories on our website, and they’ve added us to their app (Apple Store / Google Play ).

Perhaps Gretchen Spencer, who works on our education team, sums it up best: “As a mom of a son with sensory sensitivities, knowing that the Zoo is sensory inclusion certified makes me feel like my family is welcome here.  As an educator, I feel proud that this is a safe place to bring all students.”

We know there are other barriers to inclusion, and that become sensory inclusion certified is just one step among many we need to take.  But it’s an important step, and one we are proud to have made, in service to our community.

-Pamela Reed Sanchez, President & CEO Seneca Park Zoo Society

 

* Guests who would like to take a sensory bag on loan for their visit can do so at the ZooShop.