Fighting Sensory Overload: How Zoos and Museums Are Redefining Inclusion


KultureCity, a non-profit organization based in Birmingham, Ala, and founded by parents of children with autism, has trained and equipped more than 900 organizations, said chief executive Uma Srivastava. The organization’s hallmark is its “sensory bag” filled with gear that staff and visitors can quickly use to soothe sensory overload, like the noise-canceling headphones that helped Avery Shipley or the sunglasses that block noise. strobe lighting. (Similar types of sensory bags are widely available from school supply companies.)

The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, based in Jacksonville, Florida, offers online certification for people who work with people with autism and other people with disabilities, as well as employees in the travel industry. Hotels, attractions, and even entire cities can become certified centers for autism. According to IBCCES President Meredith Tekin, it has trained and certified more than 138,000 corporate, healthcare and travel personnel in 82 countries. He also runs Autism Travel, a website that recommends IBCCES-accredited destinations and offers families additional tools and strategies for navigating transportation, hotels, and various types of activities.

The Champion Autism Network is a six-year-old nonprofit organization in Surfside Beach, Florida that provides training and certification for travel destinations that want to be inclusive. He just introduced a series of programs in Myrtle Beach, SC He funds his autism advocacy by selling training programs, executive director Becky Large said.

In 2016, the Hidden Disabilities program was launched at London Gatwick Airport to facilitate travel for people with neurological disorders, hearing loss and other conditions. They make themselves known by wearing lanyards bearing the program’s logo, a sunflower on a green background. The program has now expanded to employers of all kinds in 22 countries, including the United States. Hotels, airports and other travel suppliers participate in the program by paying a license fee and having staff watch three two-minute videos designed to equip them to better assist travelers with special requests.

The hodgepodge of self-certified programs risks confusing consumers at best, said Roger Ideishi, director of occupational therapy and professor of health services, human function and rehabilitation at George Washington University, who consults with major museums. . “We’re still finding out how neurodiverse people navigate the community,” he said, “We really don’t have set baselines. The only good practice is ongoing dialogue with all local stakeholders.

Many cultural organizations are inspired by the annual Leadership Exchange for Arts and Disability conference hosted by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The conference aims to inform all cultural and entertainment venues about new ways to include neurodivergent people, said conference director Betty Siegel.

Ten years ago, the conference began integrating strategies for including people with autism into its agenda, which had previously focused primarily on physical and auditory accessibility. The autism-friendly approach replicated the model that seemed to work for serving the deaf and hard of hearing: delivering a performance specifically for this audience and their perceived needs.


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