Assiniboine Park Zoo strives to become sensory-friendly for overwhelmed visitors

KultureCity provided online training for staff, and the Winnipeg zoo developed "sensory bags" containing noise-cancelling headphones, fidget toys and verbal cue cards.

Winnipeg zoo works with non-profit, which helps spaces become inclusive for people with autism

The Assiniboine Park Zoo is becoming more sensory-friendly to help people on the autism spectrum who may otherwise feel overwhelmed. (Camille Gris Roy/Radio-Canada)

The Assiniboine Park Zoo is trying to become more inclusive for people with sensory issues.

Bright lights and loud noises can be overly stimulating for people on the autism spectrum, as well as people recovering from heart conditions or head injuries, spokesperson Laura Cabak said.

"It's not a drastic change. It was very achievable," said Cabak, adding the suggestion came from a staff member at the Winnipeg zoo.

"We always strive to be inclusive. You do as much as you can, and some changes are harder than others. This was an idea that was brought forward and we looked into it and we're like, 'This is a relatively easy thing to do,' so why wouldn't we do that?"

The zoo partnered with U.S. non-profit KultureCity, which makes spaces more inclusive for people with autism. KultureCity provided online training for staff, and the zoo developed "sensory bags" containing noise-cancelling headphones, fidget toys and verbal cue cards, said Cabak.

A room near the entrance will be a designated quiet space, new signs will warn people about loud areas at the zoo and a free smartphone app will help visitors plan ahead, she said.

Cabak said certain times of the year, such as the middle of winter, are more quiet at the zoo, but she expects the sensory-friendly initiatives will be appreciated during the noisier — and smellier — times of the year. 

With files from Ismaila Alfa


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