Elmwood Park Zoo is honored to be the nation’s first zoo accredited as a certified autism center by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education (IBCCES) – and is determined to hit the ground running when it comes to providing the most accessible experiences possible.
“We are incredibly excited to implement new resources, programming and accommodations for our guests and families of children with autism, and we are thrilled to be the first zoo in the nation to receive such a designation, said Eric Donovan, director of operations at Elmwood Park Zoo. “We hope our designation provides inspiration to other like institutions to find new and better ways to accommodate guests with special needs and guests with autism. We have already implemented several new resources and programs and look forward to developing and expanding our offerings in the months and years to come. We want each and every guest to feel welcome and comfortable while they are with us at the zoo and this is just one step in the direction of providing the absolute best experience we can for all of our guests.”
The integral support of local foundations like the Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Council (Montco CAC) not only helped to subsidize staff training, but also allowed the launch of the organizational transformation currently underway to better provide for guests with autism and special sensory needs.
“Montco CAC is dedicated to helping children throughout Montgomery County,” said Montco CAC president Stan Huskey, who is also the publisher of MONTCO.Today. “Being able to help children and young adults with autism to experience Elmwood Park Zoo fulfills that mission and more. We’re honored to have been able to help the zoo attain the status as the first in the country to be a certified autism center, and that designation is now being used to provide incredible programs. We’re very happy to be involved.”
In addition to installing a “quiet area” – an out-of-the-fray area of respite – the zoo recently hosted its first “Calm Morning”. Not only did this event allow guests with special needs into the zoo before the sometimes stressful and overwhelming hustle and bustle of peak hours, it allowed staff to further its education by learning from true experts: the zoo’s guests.
Handing out surveys and engaging with “Calm Morning” guests, the zoo worked hard to ensure it wasted no opportunity to truly tune the experience to fit guests’ wants and needs.
“We can make educated assumptions of what we think our guests’ needs are, but asking and learning from them is the best way to ensure we meet their needs to the best of our ability”, said Jen Conti, the zoo’s director of development. “Many more phases and initiatives focused on accessibility will be launched shortly – and we excitedly await providing them to the public.”