Special to 1808Delaware

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Committed to Efforts Offering Engaging, Inclusive Guest Experiences for All

Spring has arrived, which means there’s more to do than ever at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium! From marveling at the diverse animal species roaming in the expansive Heart of Africa savanna to enjoying rides and other engaging attractions, the Columbus Zoo offers guests a wide variety of experiences. And, thanks to collaborations with different organizations and dedicated individuals within our Central Ohio community, the Zoo has continued to expand its inclusion efforts to help provide guests of all ages and abilities the opportunity to enjoy what the Zoo has to offer.

New for the 2021 Season

Adult Changing Station. In 2020, a collaboration began between the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Westerville teen, Olivia Brohard, which led to the installation of the first adult changing table that is now available for use at the Zoo. This table will help provide more opportunities for guests with differing abilities to enjoy the Zoo, which is also the goal of Olivia’s “Stay All Day” project that is near and dear to her heart.

As part of the Zoo’s commitment to prioritizing inclusion initiatives, the new Adventure Cove region that opened in summer 2020 includes a family restroom built with the vision of staying proactive in meeting and exceeding Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. This family restroom is larger than others previously built on the property so that guests with various needs can be better accommodated. A goal for this restroom included an adult changing station, and when Olivia approached the Zoo with an idea to raise funds and help with the installation of this amenity, the goals of the project aligned perfectly for it to move forward. Inspired by her brother, Abram, who lived with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and loved the Columbus Zoo, Olivia worked on this initiative as part of her project to receive her American Heritage Girls Stars and Stripes award and to honor her brother’s memory. In addition to the adult changing station, the family restroom at Adventure Cove also features a mural painted by Olivia, as well as handprint tiles created by children and young adults living with disabilities to encourage inclusion and community.

Quiet Hours and Events. On March 27, 2021, the Columbus Zoo observed “quiet hours” throughout the park for a full day to provide guests with the opportunity to enjoy the Zoo in a calm and relaxed atmosphere, without the typical sounds that can be challenging for individuals with sensory needs. For several hours that day, a sensory-friendly experience with the Easter Bunny was also offered. It was the first time that the Zoo offered these hours, and the experience was well-received by our community. The Zoo has been gathering feedback from participants and plans are underway to offer more sensory-friendly days and events in the future.

Current dates that have been set are: May 16, June 13, July 18 and August 8 (all of which are Sundays). Additional details are as follows:

  • Quiet Hours at the Zoo will be in effect from open to close (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.) on May 16 and 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. on the remaining dates.
  • During Quiet Hours, all added park sounds, music and exhibit technology will be turned off or lowered as much as possible.
  • On each of these dates, Sensory-Friendly Meet and Greets with the Zoo’s Character Ambassadors will be available from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the Suzie Edwards Conservation Education Classrooms. (Please note that guests will need a dated/timed reservation prior to this experience, which can be made through the Zoo’s calendar page on the website. There is no cost for this experience and Zoo admission is not included in this reservation, as this location is outside the Zoo’s main entrance. Guests are still welcome to make a Member reservation or purchase a timed ticket to enter the Zoo during their visit.)

“There is a lot of great work taking place at the Columbus Zoo that benefits wildlife across the globe and in our own backyard. To make a difference for wildlife, however, we also recognize—and value—the importance of people. At the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, we take our mission to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife very seriously because we know it’s these connections that truly make a difference. Animals have a way of making us smile and sparking curiosity, encouraging us to learn more about the world around us in a variety of different ways. These connections also break down barriers that might otherwise be thought of as limitations and instead serve as building blocks for possibilities. While working together with fellow community organizations, governmental agencies and inspiring individuals, we are proud of the inclusion ideas that have become a reality and we look forward to growing these initiatives and sharing them with more families in our community,” said Jerry Borin, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Interim President/CEO.

“We want to see equitable access for all people to live, work and play in our community,” said Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities Superintendent Kristine Hodge. “The addition of adult changing tables and sensory-friendly programming affords people with varying needs the opportunity to enjoy all that the Zoo has to offer just like everyone else. Thank you for being a great resource to our community.

Additional Resources and Experiences

Planning Your Visit: Social Stories and Sensory Maps. A trip to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium truly begins before guests even arrive. There are many sensory-friendly ways that guests can plan their day, and to assist in explaining the Columbus Zoo experience prior to a visit or field trip, social stories are available on the Zoo’s website. These short narratives, along with accompanying pictures, help illustrate different situations so guests better understand what to expect during their visit and why. This can include explaining that guests must wait in line and be patient because the Zoo is busy; that something may move or make a sound while one waits in line; how one might be able to see more animals by observing quietly; and that there are some areas of the Zoo that are a bit louder than others and so a guest may wish to cover their ears or wear headphones.

Additionally, sensory maps are available on the Zoo’s website to identify sensory-friendly locations. These locations help families plan their visit by marking busy areas, quieter areas, places that include louder noises, strong smells, low lighting and free play. Signage at the Zoo also designates locations that are quiet areas and headphone zones to assist guests during their visit.

Created by the Zoo’s Conservation Education and Engagement team and Cassie Beam, Doctor of Occupational Therapy, these social stories and sensory maps were designed in a way to assist children, adolescents or adults with autism spectrum disorder and other needs, as well as individuals with anxiety, learn about these experiences in a way that helps them feel physically, socially and emotionally safe.

Upon Arrival: Sensory Bags. As a Sensory Inclusive™ certified facility through KultureCity, an organization dedicated to providing sensory accessibility and acceptance for individuals with differing abilities, the Zoo offers sensory bags to offer another layer of comfort during a guest’s visit. These sensory bags consist of headphones and sunglasses to minimize loud sounds and bright lights, fidget items, a KultureCity VIP lanyard and a communication card to help a guest let others know how they are feeling during a situation. The bags are designed to help meet sensory needs in children and adults. These items lessen sensory overload while also engaging guests, and are easily cleaned and sanitized between uses. Sensory bags are currently available to be checked out through the Zoo’s Guest Relations office located at the front of the park. Please note that numbers are limited and they are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Experience the Ride! The Columbus Zoo follows the ADA Guide to Rides and Attractions to assure a safe and inclusive experience. While team members do not have the proper training to physically assist, guests are encouraged to enjoy the rides and attractions with someone who is aware of the individual’s needs and can physically assist the guest when needed. Rides and attractions that are currently ADA-accessible at the Zoo include (but are not limited to): the 4-D Theater, Columbus Zoo Train Ride, Grand Carousel, Camel Ride, Pony Ride, Polar Playground, Shores Playpark, and several Rides at Adventure Cove.

Current Admission. All guests (including Zoo Members) are required to have a dated, timed ticket until 2 p.m. to help ensure that social distancing and other precautions are followed appropriately. The health and safety of all our guests is important and that is why we are collaborating with the Delaware County Health District and abiding by the standard Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

For additional updates about the Columbus Zoo’s events, animals and more, be sure to follow the Zoo’s social media accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and visit us at ColumbusZoo.org. Additional information about the Zoo’s inclusion initiatives can be found by visiting the Zoo’s Accessibility page.

Image by Hollasue from Pixabay

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