Shedd Aquarium has expanded its options for people with disabilities and autism.
The Chicago aquarium has revamped its facilities and online presence to ensure that people with disabilities are able to enjoy their exhibits as fully as possible. This includes those with autism and sensory sensitivities as well as those who are blind, deaf, or utilize wheelchairs.
The Shedd offers handicap-accessible seating, restrooms, and parking lots as well as free services for American Sign Language interpreters and personal care attendants. They even have interactive models that speak to patrons. Stop by the information desk if you require paper straws or sound-reducing headphones.
For those with autism or other sensory needs, the aquarium has expanded its offerings in three main ways: it has updated its a mobile app, now offers a quiet space to escape the hubbub, and also hosts a special event called “Calm Waters” for guests with disabilities.
The Sensory-Friendly App
The app — called Sensory Friendly Shedd Aquarium — is free to download. It was created in 2016, but recent updates include information for each exhibit that explain things like what to expect, the temperature, and what noise levels will be. It will also offer improved communication tools and informational videos.
Users of the app can pass the time by playing special games within the app. They can also make and save a personalized, visual schedule for an upcoming visit.
Everything in the app can now also be translated into Spanish, which Shedd hopes will further improve accessibility.
The Quiet Space
The aquarium now offers access to a quiet space for visitors as well. It’s open during regular aquarium hours for patrons who need to step back from the busyness of the facility and regroup. With amenities like adjustable lighting, sound-dampening headphones, and even a weighted lap pad, the room was created with sensory sensitivities in mind. There are also outlets to charge electronic devices.
The space is located in the Northern Trust Suite, which is near the aquarium’s main foyer.
Shedd now hosts an event called Calm Waters for guests with disabilities. During these extended hours, the aquarium implements sensory-friendly changes to keep the environment as comfortable as possible. This includes a streamlined entry process with advanced registration and a lower number of guests overall.
Family members and companions are welcome to attend as well.
“Offering extended hours is a common and effective way to reduce stimuli, as well as cut down on crowds along with the noise that ensues, and we knew there was interest based on discussions with community partners,” said Lynn Walsh, who is the manager of accessibility and inclusion at Shedd. “Our hope is to provide greater access and an inclusive environment so we can better connect our audience with the aquatic animal world.”
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