Guests Find More Inclusive Experience at Aquarium

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Guests Find More Inclusive Experience at Aquarium

KURE BEACH, N.C. — Aquariums have been described as sublime places. Yet, someone living with sensory issues may find the unexpected sights and experiences, dim lighting and, at times, large crowds challenging. This is why the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher wanted to make exploring one of the state’s top attractions a little easier for individuals on the autism spectrum and those who experience sensory sensitivities. The aquarium recently earned its Sensory Inclusive Certification, to ensure a positive experience for guests with sensory issues.

“The aquarium creates a space where guests can connect with nature and create memories with each other; yet some visitors weren’t able to enjoy all the aquarium offers,” said Aquarium Director Hap Fatzinger. “This commitment to inclusion means we can serve more children and adults, giving them safer spaces and more places to explore.”

People living with sensory concerns include those on the autism spectrum, sensory processing disorders, individuals with PTSD and more.

The Sensory Inclusive Certification process, accomplished in partnership with KultureCity, includes staff training, the availability of sensory bags and other tools of accessibility. KultureCity is a national non-profit focused on sensory-inclusive technology, training and spaces.

Sensory Bags provide tools and toys that may help make a day at the aquarium more accessible. The bags can be borrowed at the aquarium’s Guest Services desk during a visit and include noise-reducing headphones, fidget toys and a feelings thermometer.

Aquarium staff from all departments including education, security and visitor services, as well as many volunteers, have undergone training to better understand and interact with guests with differing sensory characteristics.

“This illustrates our team’s commitment to making the aquarium a place all people can experience and enjoy,” said Aquarium Educator Erin Gross, who led the aquarium certification initiative and training.

Those with sensory concerns may also preview the aquarium and prepare for a visit by accessing the aquarium’s online social story through the KultureCity app.

“To know that you soon will be able to see families visiting North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, 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 Dr. Julian Maha, Co-Founder of KultureCity. “Our communities are what shapes our lives; aquariums are always a fascinating venue and hold a special place in our hearts, and to know that the Aquarium is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone, no matter their ability, is included in their community is amazing.”

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