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Racine Zoo receives 'sensory inclusive' certification
Inclusiveness

Racine Zoo receives 'sensory inclusive' certification

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RACINE — The Racine Zoo recently became the first Wisconsin zoo to receive certification as a sensory-inclusive facility.

The designation was created through a partnership with KultureCity, a nonprofit organization recognized nationwide for using its resources to revolutionize and effect change in the community for those with sensory needs.

This new initiative aims to promote an accommodating and positive experience for Racine Zoo guests with sensory issues.

Path to certification

The certification process included staff training by leading medical professionals on how to recognize guests with sensory needs and handle sensory overload situations, designated headphone zones, quiet areas around the zoo and free sensory bag check-outs at the gate.

The sensory bags are equipped with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads and will be available to all guests visiting the zoo who may feel overwhelmed by the environment.

“This is a big step forward for inclusivity in the Racine Zoo. We work hard to make our zoo the best it can be to provide a positive experience for all of our guests, regardless of their background,” stated Racine Zoo Executive Director Beth Heidorn.

Prior to the Racine Zoo certification, the closest zoo or aquarium that was certified as sensory inclusive was the Akron Zoo in Ohio.

“This community views our zoo as a fun, safe place for their families, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure we maintain that standard,” Heidorn said.

Sensory challenges

Sensory sensitivities or challenges with sensory regulation are often experienced by individuals with autism, dementia, PTSD and other similar conditions. One of the major barriers for these individuals is sensitivity to overstimulation and noise, which is an enormous part of the environment in a venue like a zoo.

With its new certification, the Racine Zoo is now better prepared to assist guests with sensory sensitivities in having the most comfortable and accommodating experience possible when visiting.

“To know that you soon will be able to visit the zoo — a true community binding experience — with their loved ones who have a sensory challenge and who were not able to previously attend, is truly a heartwarming moment,” said KultureCity Executive Director Traci Johnson. “Our communities are what shape our lives and to know that the Racine Zoo is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone, no matter their ability, is included in their community is amazing.”

In the past year, KultureCity has created several sensory-inclusive venues and events including the NFL Pro-Bowl, NFL Super Bowl and 26 sports stadiums.

The Racine Zoo is the seventh institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to receive this certification.

“This is a big step forward for inclusivity in the Racine Zoo. We work hard to make our zoo the best it can be to provide a positive experience for all of our guests, regardless of their background. This community views our zoo as a fun, safe place for their families, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure we maintain that standard.” –Beth Heidorn, Racine Zoo Executive Director

“This is a big step forward for inclusivity in the Racine Zoo. We work hard to make our zoo the best it can be to provide a positive experience for all of our guests, regardless of their background. This community views our zoo as a fun, safe place for their families, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure we maintain that standard.”

–Beth Heidorn, Racine Zoo Executive Director 

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Alyssa Mauk covers breaking news and courts. She enjoys spending time with her family, video games, heavy metal music, watching YouTube videos, comic books and movies.

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