Visiting theme parks are a popular family activity. They are also a unique tourist attractions. But did you know that many families avoid them? The movement of exciting rides, bright lights, sounds and noises, and crowds of people make theme parks sensory-rich. For families with children who have sensory sensitivities, (or adult members themselves) visiting theme parks is an impossible activity. Autistic children or children with sensory disorders also have sensory challenges or differences that make busy, noisy, bright experiences overwhelming. Theme parks contribute to sensory overload. Nonetheless, there is a solution! Make your theme park sensory-friendly. Make more families comfortable with simple steps to a sensory-friendly theme park.
What is sensory-rich about theme parks?
Firstly, it is important to understand why traditional theme parks are sensory-rich. Common issues for people with sensory sensitivities are environments and experiences that are too busy, bright and loud. While each theme park is unique, there are common characteristics that might be present at your park. For example, consider the following:
- Noisy rollercoasters and rides.
- Background noises and sounds from equipment.
- Bright and flashing lights throughout the theme parks.
- Long lines and wait times.
- Crowds of people.
- Strong scents of food and beverages around the park.
- Great distances to access different points in the theme park.
- The movement on rides.
- The challenge to balance on rides.
- Different things to touch and feel.
All of these factors can contribute to someone having a sensory overload response. Feeling overwhelmed creates a stressful and negative experience. Therefore, make more people comfortable by being sensory-friendly!
How can you create a sensory-friendly theme park?
There are several strategies to create a more sensory-friendly theme park. A research evaluation of several theme parks in North America highlighted many accessibility modifications. By implementing these types of strategies, you remove the sensory barriers that many families experience when visiting theme parks. Consider changes that are a fit for your theme park. You can make changes one by one, and over time. Even small changes help many theme park guests.
Create videos or social stories of your theme park
One of the first suggestions to help make your theme park sensory-friendly is to create and share videos or stories about the experience at your theme park. When creating this content, consider a walk through the theme park, starting with the entrance. Show each of the different attractions. Be sure to include any sensory-friendly features! And remember to show the exit, too.
Stories and videos help people, especially children, manage expectations. They also help people prepare for something unfamiliar. For example, many children with sensory processing disorders or autism experience a significant amount of stress participating in new events because of the sensory experience. Therefore, providing visuals and information about your park will help children begin to develop an idea of how visiting the park will look and feel.
Create a sensory-friendly map
In addition, a sensory-friendly map is another way to make your park more accessible. A sensory-friendly map is a like a regular map but it shows areas or attractions that with a rich sensory experience. This map should indicate areas of your theme park that are sensory-friendly (e.g., quiet zones, locations of sensory tools, sensory-friendly rides). Moreover, it should also highlight areas that are more sensory-rich in nature. Show spots that are very busy, very noisy or very bright. These maps are helpful families to choose experiences that are a match for their senses!
Provide staff members with sensory-friendly training
Another effective way to help create a more accessible theme park is to provide sensory-friendly training to staff members. Many people are unaware of sensory sensitivities or sensory overload. Therefore, ensure that your team understands the experience of sensory sensitivity or sensory overload. Teach them why being sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive is important.
Offer sensory-friendly passes
A great feature to add is a sensory-friendly pass. These are special passes given to people who need a sensory-friendly experience. Like, letting families avoid waiting in line. Ultimately, this feature allows people with hypersensitivities to avoid crowds and loud lines that often contribute to feelings of sensory overload and stress. It is helpful to allow each sensory-friendly pass holder to have their family or at least a caregiver accompany them.
Develop low sensory zones within your park
Furthermore, develop low sensory zones at your theme park to make it sensory-friendly. A low sensory zone is a designated area that is quiet, less bright and less busy, but still has rides or experiences. In this zone consider having experiences that are less stimulating on the senses to help create a more calming experience. Keep the numbers limited, too. Turn off background noise or music. Ensure good lighting for safety, but avoid bright or flashing lights. Add features like a weighted lap pad, noise cancelling earmuffs or fidgets. These are all sensory tools that help people manage sensory overload.
Designate a quiet zone within your park
Like a sensory zone, consider a quiet zone too. Make the quiet zone a true space of tranquility, with no noise (except possibly nature) and low (but safe) lighting. Let visitors sit and rest in these spaces. Use nature and natural light to your advantage, if available. Think of creating a space that is the opposite of busy, noisy, bright and crowded. Give people a place to rest.
Offer noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses
Another suggestion is offering guests the ability to rent, purchase or borrow noise-cancelling ear muffs and sunglasses while exploring the park. Although many families with children that have greater sensitivities may bring along these sensory tools to the park, it is possible that children may start to experience unexpected sensitivities in this sensory-rich environment. Therefore, offering these tools helps to ensure that all visitors have the resources they need to comfortably explore the park.
Ensure all toilets are accessible
Lastly, a critical part of a sensory-friendly park is offering accessible bathrooms (toilets). This is crucial to ensure that all people can easily use the bathrooms without any difficulties. Additionally, it is important that there are enough bathrooms to avoid line ups.
Use these suggestions and create, an accessible, inclusive, sensory-friendly theme park experience for all your visitors! For more ideas, check out the blog post by Family Vacation Critic that highlights different autism-friendly theme parks across North America.
Interested in learning more ways to create a more sensory-friendly tourist attraction. Check out:
- Make Your Sport or Recreation Center Sensory-Friendly
- 10 Ways to Make Tourism Sensory-Friendly
- Make your Beach Sensory-Friendly
- How to Create A Sensory-Friendly Campsite
- Create a Sensory Garden
- Sensory-Friendly Tourism: A Sculpture Trail
- Sensory-Friendly Tourist Attraction: City Walking Path
- Make Your Arena or Stadium Sensory-Friendly
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