AUTISM VISITORS WELCOMED TO ATLANTA
Atlanta is filled with events and things to do. Nightlife, restaurants, family attractions, history, and even beautiful parks. While the state still has changes to make when it comes to Autism reform, the city is actually very autism-friendly.
If you follow our Monthly Sensory Events, you will find many different venues offer special dates and hours just for those who need sensory friendly accommodations. I happy to share that now Atlanta has TWO new Autism Certified attractions!
The Georgia Aquarium is a favorite of Lil Man’s. He can watch all the different fish for hours. We enjoyed many visits such as when the NEW SEA LION show was being introduced as well as taking advantage of their Autism Days. And while we always enjoy our trip, it can be overwhelming at times.
The Georgia Aquarium is the Number 1 aquarium in the United States and also very popular among tourist from other countries. This can make it very busy aka crowded. With crowds of this size, there will be issues for our kiddos. Even typical families can find it hard to maneuver strollers and when we had DIVA in a wheelchair, yes people would walk right in front of her.
Georgia Aquarium understands that parents with children on the autism spectrum often find choosing vacation locales and attractions to visit a challenge due to sensory needs, dietary restrictions and safety concerns. The Georgia Aquarium is the latest destination – and the first aquarium – to become a Certified Autism Center (CAC). The CAC designation, granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), means that visitors and families with children who have autism and other sensory disorders can enjoy the best possible experience that caters to their needs.
For almost 20 years, IBCCES has been the industry leader in autism training for licensed healthcare professionals and educators around the globe. IBCCES recognized that many families with children who have special needs have limited travel options. In response to this need, IBCCES created training and certification programs specifically for the hospitality and travel industry. While many destinations tout “autism-friendly” options, this phrase is a generic term that does not necessarily indicate a true understanding of these families’ requirements. More parents are seeking out destinations that have completed research-based training and professional review as they review search for options.
“Georgia Aquarium is dedicated to providing our guests with an exceptional experience that allows them to connect with the wonders of the aquatic world. We are thrilled to be leading the zoo and aquarium industry through our commitment to making our facility friendly for families with children on the spectrum. We look forward to applying this training and working to provide the best possible experience for all of our guests with the ultimate goal of inspiring awareness and preservation of our ocean and aquatic animals worldwide,” said Anthony Rivera, Vice President of Guest Experience and Hospitality.
While research shows that travel is one of the most intellectually stimulating events for individuals on the autism spectrum, there are still few trained and certified travel options for parents looking for destinations able to accommodate their needs. Organizations like IBCCES and industry leaders such as Georgia Aquarium are working to change that.
“Our goal is to partner with the leading travel destinations in the world to create safe, sensory-compatible travel options for parents and individuals on the spectrum. Our Certified Autism Center designation is awarded to premier organizations around the globe who have completed rigorous training and meet the highest industry standards,” said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman.
IBCCES also created AutismTravel.com, a free online resource for parents that lists certified destinations and connects families to other resources and each other. Each destination listed on the site has met Certified Autism Center (CAC) requirements.
The Georgia Aquarium is located at 225 Baker Street NW Atlanta, GA 30313. They can be reached by phone: 404.581.4000. Tickets can be purchased daily online or by walking up to the gate. Follow the Georgia Aquarium on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.
Zoo Atlanta was the first venue we ever bought a family membership. We visited as often as we could year-round. The kids both would have fun as they enjoyed not only learning about the animals but also the playground, train ride, carousel and now even TreeTop Trail. We were even able to attend the ribbon-cutting for the Splash Pad opening and were interviewed by the local news!
Due to being so familiar with the zoo, we were always able to make the trip fun and enjoyable to Lil Man. But now, Zoo Atlanta is also Autism Certified. Just as I shared how Roger Willians Zoo in RI teamed with KultureCity I’m so happy to hear so did Zoo Atlanta.
Zoo Atlanta has partnered with KultureCity to achieve certification as a sensory inclusive destination, becoming just the third visitor venue in Atlanta to offer certified resources and accommodations for guests with sensory needs. This new initiative will promote an accommodating and positive experience for all visitors.
Through the certification process, Zoo Atlanta team members were trained by leading medical professionals on how to recognize guests with sensory needs and how to handle sensory overload situations. Sensory bags, equipped with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards, and other resources, are now available to all guests at the Member Services Office just outside the Zoo entrance. Weighted lap pads will also be available to visitors at the Zoo train station in KIDZone and at the World of Wild Theater presented by Georgia Natural Gas. Both the sensory bags and the lap pads are available to borrow, free of charge, with the presentation of an ID.
In addition, Zoo grounds now include three Quiet Areas and six Headphone Zones, marked with signage and identifiable on the Zoo Atlanta map. Prior to their visit, guests may download a social story via the KultureCity All Inclusive App.
“The Zoo Atlanta experience can make a lasting positive impression on the lives of individuals and families, but we are not succeeding at our mission if it’s not an experience that’s accessible to everyone,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO of Zoo Atlanta. “We’re proud to partner with KultureCity on an initiative that we hope will welcome many new and returning guests to Zoo Atlanta – guests who may not have previously been able to enjoy the rich resources and benefits of an experience that others may take for granted.”
Sensory sensitivities or challenges with sensory regulation are often experienced by individuals with autism, dementia, PTSD and other similar conditions. One of the major barriers for these individuals is sensitivity to over-stimulation and noise, which are parts of the environment in a venue such as the Zoo. With its new certification, Zoo Atlanta is now better prepared to assist guests with sensory sensitivities in having the most comfortable and accommodating experience possible during their visit.
“Families being able to enjoy a visit to the Zoo with their loved ones who have a sensory challenge and who may not have been able to previously attend is a truly heartwarming experience,” said Traci Johnson, Executive Director, KultureCity. “To know that Zoo Atlanta is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone, no matter their ability, is included in their community is amazing.”
KultureCity is a leading nonprofit recognized nationwide for using their resources to revolutionize and effect change in the community for those with sensory needs, not just those with autism. In the past year alone, KultureCity has created several sensory inclusive venues and events, including the NFL Pro-Bowl, NFL Super Bowl, 16 NBA arenas, five NFL stadiums, five NHL arenas and zoos, science centers and aquariums across the nation.
Learn more about the new resources available at Zoo Atlanta at zooatlanta.org/accessibility. Plan a visit to zooatlanta.org.