While a trip to the zoo is a great way to spend time with family and friends, for individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and other sensory challenges, the unexpected noises and crowds can trigger anxiety and related reactions. As a result, the Greenville Zoo has partnered with KultureCity, a nonprofit organization that provides accessibility solutions for individuals with sensory disorders, on an initiative to raise awareness about SPD and create a more sensory inclusive environment at the zoo.
As part of their efforts, Greenville Zoo staff and volunteers completed training to increase their understanding of SPD and learn ways to facilitate positive experiences for guests with sensory challenges and implement strategies to support inclusivity in their programming.
The zoo also has sensory bags available at the ticket booth and the gift shop that guests can check out for free. The bags include:
- Noise canceling headphones to tone down unexpected noises, like the gibbons calling or the echoed amplified sounds in Ektopia, that tend to be overwhelming
- Fidget toys to hold, squeeze and manipulate, providing sensory input in a less distracting way
- A “feelings card” with drawings of faces depicting universal feelings to help non-verbal children relay their emotions
- A lanyard with the KultureCity icon on it to help zoo staff identify visitors with sensory issues and respond quickly if they see someone having a difficult time
Additionally, the zoo has installed signs identifying “quiet areas” that typically see less activity and provide seating for visitors who may need a place to regroup and “headphone zones” to cue visitors to use the noise canceling headphones in areas that may be especially noisy. These areas will also be highlighted on zoo maps to make it easier for visitors to locate them.
To help plan their family’s trip to the Greenville Zoo and other sensory inclusive locations, parents can download the free KultureCity app from the App Store or Google Play. For each location, including the Greenville Zoo, the app highlights features such as sensory bags, quiet areas and headphone zones, and provides a social story to describe the sights, sounds and situations that guests may encounter.
“Every family deserves to have a great experience at the zoo and our partnership with KultureCity has been a wonderful way for us to connect with families in our community,” said Lynn Watkins, Education Curator at the Greenville Zoo. “The sensory inclusivity initiative not only improves access for zoo guests with sensory challenges but also raises awareness about the importance of sensory inclusivity in our community.”
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