More attractions get ‘sensory inclusive’ designation
NEW ORLEANS — A non-profit organization that helps open doors for people with autism has certified the aquarium and zoo in New Orleans as sensory inclusive.
The Aquarium of the Americas is the first aquarium to get such certification, and the Audubon Zoo is among the first 10 zoos, according to Birmingham, Ala.-based KultureCity.
The Birmingham Zoo was the test bed for its program, which includes training staffers and volunteers, setting up quiet spaces, and providing “sensory bags” with a “KC VIP” tag on a lanyard, noise-cancelling headphones, “fidget toys” and other items, said co-founder and CEO Julian Maha, a physician and father of a 10-year-old with autism.
KultureCity has certified 40 to 50 attractions around the U.S., including six NBA arenas, two NFL stadiums and several science museums, Maha said. Another 25 to 30, including the New England Aquarium, probably will be certified within a month.
Roger Torbert of the Birmingham Zoo said his zoo uses pre-training incidents as examples of what not to do.
In one, he said, a zookeeper walked up to a boy who’d been reported missing with a loud, cheery, “Hey, buddy!”
“The little boy kicked him in the shins and ran away,” Torbert said.
Now, he said, staffers and volunteers know to get down to a child’s level, give choices in a quiet voice, and try to look them in the eye without expecting the look to be returned.
The most important lesson, Torbert said, is showing parents that they understand what’s happening and will do what they can to help.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ home court was the first NBA arena certified, Maha said.
He said when a fireworks induced flashback upset an Afghan War veteran at a Cavs’ home game, someone who’d been through the training recognized his KC VIP tag and asked if he needed a quiet place to relax, and showed him to the quiet room.
KultureCity also helps develop website features to help guests plan visits.