More at­trac­tions get ‘sen­sory in­clu­sive’ des­ig­na­tion

Toronto Sun - - TRAVEL -

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.

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