Create a Sensory-Friendly Zoo Experience

Visits to the zoo are definitely a sensory experience. With animals of all types, in addition to human visitors, zoos are sensory-rich environments. There are plenty of sights, sounds, and smells! In fact, zoos offer new experiences for each of your eight senses. However, for visitors who experience sensory sensitivities or sensory overload, the zoo experience may not be possible. But you if you create a sensory-friendly zoo; you include more people and become more accessible and inclusive.

This blog post cover strategies to implement to make your zoo sensory-friendly.

Infographic highlighting ways to make the zoo experience sensory-friendly.

Implement sensory-friendly hours

Sensory-friendly hours are specific times to adjust the sensory experience at your zoo. Specifically, during sensory-friendly hours, changes are made to be less busy, less noisy and less bright. For instance:

  • no bright or flashing lights
  • no light shows
  • number of visitors is limited
  • no background music
  • no overhead/broadcast announcements
  • no noisy equipment in operation

Provide small group sensory-friendly zoo tours

Offer small group sensory-friendly zoo tours. Train staff to help and support people with disabilities. Then provide small group sensory-friendly zoo tours that are accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities, in particular hidden disabilities.

Have quiet areas

Designate quiet areas throughout the zoo. Quiet areas let visitor take a break from a sensory-rich experience. Here are ideas for your quiet areas:

  • no bright or flashing lights
  • limit the number of people in the area
  • calm or no music
  • offer sensory kits
  • provide access to water and food
  • have comfortable seating
  • have different types of seating

If the zoo is large, have multiple quiet areas throughout. Be sure to clearly indicate quiet areas on your sensory-friendly zoo map.

A boy feeding grass to a rhinoceros at a sensory-friendly zoo

Label sensory rich zones with signs

Tell visitors what to expect for the senses on a map. For instance, if an area is noisy because of the animals making noise, show “noisy animals” on a sign. On the other hand, if an area has a strong smell, let visitors know that, too! Think about the sensory experience at your zoo. Show visitors what to expect with signs. Moreover, indicate sensory-friendly alternatives, as well. For example, if your zoo has a quiet area, like mentioned above, be sure to include that on your map.

Provide sensory supports

Sensory kits help zoo visitors manage the sensory experience, too. Sell, rent or loan them out. Include sensory-friendly items like:

  • fidgets
  • noise-cancelling ear muffs
  • a water bottle
  • sensory-friendly zoo map.

Be inspired to create a sensory-friendly zoo experience that improves your zoo’s accessibility and inclusion initiatives.

Check out this Kansas City Zoo app that helps create a sensory-friendly zoo experience.

Are you interested in learning other strategies to be sensory-friendly in tourism? Then read the following blogs:

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