ICAN2 (Involvement, Community, Advocacy and Networking Too) is a group of Self-Advocates from Knox County who are dedicated to promoting inclusion and improving accessibility for all. Last year they learned about the Akron Zoo and how they were the second zoo in the United States to create a Sensory Inclusive environment for all patrons that come to their zoo. Akron Zoo partnered with KultureCity to improve their ability to assist and accommodate guests with sensory processing needs. Their objective is to provide an inclusive and seamless experience for ALL guests regardless of age and ability including those with sensory processing needs.
In April 2018 ICAN2 met with Elena Bell, who works with the Akron Zoo so she could help the group understand how they implemented this program into their zoo. She explained that all of the staff at the zoo are trained in recognizing what a "melt down" looks like and understanding what sensory sensitive means, what it can look like and the different needs people may have. They provide Sensory Bags at no cost to anyone who comes to the zoo. The bags include noise cancelling headphones, fidget toys, sunglasses and a cue card to help them express their wants and needs. There are guest comfort stations that individuals or families can use to help calm down and get away from the crowds. There are quiet zones and headphone zones throughout the entire zoo. On Akron Zoo's website, they have a Social Story that people can view prior to coming so they know what to expect before they arrive.
In June the self advocates were able to go to the Akron Zoo to see the new program! Many people noticed how easy it was to find the "headphone zones" and "quiet zones" so they knew what was coming. They also appreciated the fidget toys so they could have something to occupy their hands while waiting to view an exhibit.
ICAN2 is hoping that the Columbus Zoo will take note of this wonderful program and implement it in their zoo! If you would like to see this become a reality for Columbus, Eleana Bell recommended that patrons should write down the different things Akron Zoo does on the Columbus Zoo's comment cards when you visit and give them Elena's contact information:
Elena Bell Marketing & Group Sales Manager, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 330-375-2550, ext. 7251