Access for All at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

November 23, 2020

Text below pulled from full article,

Since the beginning of the Zoo Access for All program, LEND’s Program Director, Dr. Jen Smith, has collaborated with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (CZBG) to train zoo employees and identify priority areas to increase accessibility.

Over four hundred CZBG employees have gone through the unique training with Dr. Smith, learning some of the types of developmental disabilities they may encounter at the zoo, how they can support those with developmental disabilities, and how they can assist families when issues arise. One of the main purposes of the training is to make interacting with families with developmental disabilities less intimidating. Employees can be role models and advocates, and the training helps them feel better prepared to make every visitor’s experience at CZBG magical.

As a local expert on the subject, Dr. Smith’s involvement in the program helps families trust in the changes being made. Dr. Smith has been working with many other cultural institutions across the greater Cincinnati region, providing education and resources to places like the Newport Aquarium, Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Reds, and even the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Together, these organizations along with many others have created the Greater Cincinnati Access and Inclusion Network, to share ideas, resources, and collaborate to create a more inclusive region.

Dr. Smith says, “When these organizations partner together, there’s less heavy lifting to create a program from scratch. They can learn what’s working at other organizations and ask questions and having similar resources at similar organizations helps our families know what to expect. There’s also great local pride in saying to a visitor, ‘If you liked the resources at the zoo, you’ll love the events at the museum this weekend!’”

As valuable as medical expertise is, no one knows the challenges of a zoo visit for the neurodiverse better than our member families with developmental disabilities, so Dr. Smith and CZBG invited twenty families representing different disabilities, age groups, and socioeconomic statuses to serve as part of the Zoo’s Access for All Family Advisory Council. These families committed to serving as advisory members of the council for the length of the grant, sharing their experiences, guiding the direction of the program, and advocating for the work in the community. Their perspectives were vital to understanding how the zoo can create the best experiences for them.