All zoos and aquariums have a common mission — to educate the public about conservation and to share the wonders of wildlife with all people, including those with disabilities. Learn how Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited facilities are taking active steps to make their spaces accessible for all.
Virtual tours and guides let visitors know what to expect
Woodland Park Zoo
For Joaquin, a volunteer with autism at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the zoo serves as a great opportunity to learn about animals and conservation. And for Woodland Park, Joaquin serves as an outstanding ambassador for visitors with disabilities.
Together, they work to develop tools to help all visitors feel prepared and enjoy their visit to the zoo. One such tool is Social Story, a guide to what exactly a visitor can expect when visiting, from entry to exit and all exhibits in between.
Read more about Joaquin and Woodland Park’s journey to create a more inclusive zoo.
San Diego Zoo
Down the Pacific coast, San Diego Zoo is also using Social Story to help visitors to get to know the zoo and its resources before they go.
In addition, San Diego is a KultureCity Certified Sensory Inclusive Venue. With this designation, visitors can request a sensory-inclusive bag with special tools to help them feel calm at the zoo. Items in the bag include headphones, fidget toys and cards where individuals can point to what they need and how they’re feeling. By offering these tools, the zoo is able to provide a more enjoyable experience for individuals with disabilities.
Potter Park Zoo
At Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan, guests can virtually visit the zoo buildings with Able Eyes. These tours help decrease anxiety for guests by seeing how accessible each building is before visiting.
Educational wildlife programming for children with disabilities
Zoo de Grandby
Educational programming has long been an important part of zoo and aquarium outreach. But for children with disabilities, traditional programming may not meet their needs or abilities.
Zoo de Grandby in Quebec, Canada, realized this unique need and contacted the organization, Autisme Montérégie, to train their education team. This led to the development of Exploring the Animal World, an educational workshop for students with disabilities. The workshop provides a fun and educational experience for students, while being mindful of their abilities.
Since its creation, the workshop has expanded with different communication styles including sign language. Plus, the zoo has even created an adapted workshop for use in schools.
Tips to adapt programming
Many AZA facilities nationwide are creating events and programming to better serve all visitors. Examples include Santa Barbara Zoo’s Autism Safari Night, Potter Park Zoo’s Falconers Program and Chicago Shedd Aquarium’s sensory-friendly app.
For organizations looking to create or adapt current programming, the AZA recommends keeping in mind that what works for one person, may not work for another. Each person has individual needs and strengths, and it’s important to be flexible. They also recommend facilities partner with community organizations when developing programs.
AZA facilities are proud to share their conservation work with all members of the public. Discover more about what’s happening at different AZA facilities across the nation here.