Thousands show up to celebrate Zoo’s efforts to be more inclusive
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, in partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), has been working hard to become the most welcoming, accessible, and inclusive Zoo for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Today, thousands of people from the developmental disabilities community, and organizations that serve them, showed up for the first Zoo Access for All Day to see the progress the Zoo has made toward this goal and to celebrate inclusion in a welcoming and fun environment.
“The purpose of today was to kick off our Zoo Access for All program and to get feedback from our family advisory council and community members on how we’re doing,” said Rhiannon Hoeweler, VP of Visitor Engagement and Fun. “We’ve been planning and preparing for this day for almost a year, and it was great to see so many people enjoying themselves with support from Zoo staff.”
Almost 400 Zoo employees and volunteers have received training to better engage with individuals with developmental disabilities since the access initiative, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), began in 2017.
In addition to teaching staff skills to promote inclusion through CCHMC’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (LEND) training program, the Zoo offers sensory friendly restrooms, adult-sized changing tables, sensory maps, a rides access pass, social narratives, visual supports, and sensory bags filled with oral motor chewy tubes, fidgets, pinwheels, noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses, etc. A calming room will be ready in early 2019.
About 30 organizations that offer services for people with developmental disabilities got the opportunity to connect with individuals and families that could benefit from knowing about them. “In addition to providing information and materials, some organizations offered fun activities for visitors to enjoy,” said Hoeweler. “Wheelchair painting was one activity that looked like fun, and participants got to take their masterpieces home!”
The Zoo is committed to providing all members of our community, no matter their ability, economic status, social structure or race, with the opportunity to make a positive connection to wildlife and wild places. That commitment is emphasized in the Zoo’s vision for the future, and funds raised for its More Home to Roam capital campaign will be used to make the Zoo experience better for everyone.