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Go Ask Mom

With new 'sensory inclusive' certification, NC Zoo now an easier place to visit for people with sensory disorders

Posted March 14, 2019 4:15 p.m. EDT
Updated March 15, 2019 8:51 a.m. EDT

North Carolina Zoo's second southern white rhino. FILE PHOTO.

— The N.C. Zoo is now a certified sensory inclusive venue thanks to a partnership with KultureCity, a nonprofit that helps venues and destinations become a more welcoming place for those with sensory issues.

A visit to a zoo, museum, sports arena and other venues can be tricky for people with autism, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions because loud noises, crowds and flashing lights, for example, can be stressful. At certified sensory inclusive venues, staff are trained to recognize guests who need help and have the resources to provide support.

At the zoo, staff now can identify guests in need and offer them sensory bags, which include noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads. There will also be designated Quiet Zones for anybody who needs a calm space because of a sensory overload.

“We are very excited to offer this program to enhance our inclusion efforts for all guests,” said the zoo’s Guest Service Officer Jamie Merchel in a news release.

“To know that you soon will be able to see families attend the North Carolina Zoo with their loved ones who have a sensory challenge and who were not able to previously attend is truly a heartwarming moment. It’s amazing that the Zoo is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone, no matter their ability, is included in their community,” said Executive Director of KultureCity Traci Johnson in the release.

The zoo is one of several North Carolina destinations to provide support for those with sensory issues. In 2017, PNC Arena also worked with KultureCity to provide assistance to people who attend games, concerts and shows. The Museum of Life and Science also has taken steps to support guests with autism and sensory disorders.

Marbles Kids Museum offers evening play for families with kids with special needs every other month and lights up, sound down movie screenings in its IMAX theater twice a month. Kidzu Children's Museum has hosted sensory-friendly play. And Raleigh Little Theatre, Theatre in the Park, North Carolina Theatre and Durham Performing Arts Center all have worked to provide resources and special performances for families with members on the spectrum.

Before visiting, families can download a map of sensory areas available on the Zoo's website. They also can download the free KultureCity App to see what sensory features are available and where they can access them.