Roanoke Island What's New

Aquarium eases inclusion for visitors with sensory challenges


New sensory features at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island will allow visitors who are on the autism spectrum or experience visual impairment to maximize their enjoyment and adventures at the aquarium. Guests may now check out “Sensory Inclusion” bags at the visitor services desk in the aquarium’s lobby that include features like tactile items, fidget toys and noise-cancelling headphones.

The initiative was accomplished in partnership with the organization KultureCity, a national non-profit that provided sensory inclusive training and signage, and the Outer Banks-based Surfing for Autism, which donated the sensory bags.

“We are trying to reduce obstacles and increase access for guests with differing sensory experiences and give them a greater appreciation of the experiences at the aquarium,” said Education Curator Dia Hitt.

For children on the autism spectrum, loud noises associated with crowds can prevent full enjoyment of the aquarium’s surroundings. That’s why the sensory inclusion bags include noise reducing headphones. Signs around the aquarium advise parents that they may be encountering a louder space and may want their child to use the headphones.

Aquarium staff across the education, security and visitor services departments, as well as volunteers, have also undergone training to better understand and interact with guests with differing sensory characteristics. More than half of the aquarium personnel went through the training, Hitt says.

The sensory inclusive training and adaptation by the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island has earned it a Certification of Sensory Inclusion by KultureCity.

“Our communities are what shapes our lives, and to know the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone, no matter their ability, is included in their community is amazing,” said Traci Johnson, Executive Director of KultureCity.

Sensory inclusion bags and wheelchairs are available on request in the aquarium’s lobby at no cost to the guest. Find more information here.

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