Brookfield Zoo initiative aims to make visits by children with disabilities easier

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The "Zoo for All" initiative is making sure families with children of with disabilities can take part in all that the zoo has to offer. (WLS)

Brookfield Zoo's initiative, called "Zoo for All," is making sure families with children of with disabilities can take part in all that the zoo has to offer.

To help make visits more inclusive, new zoo additions include an inclusion resource center and family room at the Hamill Family Play Zoo. Each space is designed to offer families sensory-friendly fun.

"Our 'Zoo for All' initiative is the initiative that we want all of our guests to be able to come to the zoo on any day of the week and they don't have to worry about accommodations or accessing resources because we have all those things here that people of all walks of life are able to come experience the zoo whenever they want to," said Lauren Reeder, an inclusion specialist at the zoo and the senior coordinator of NatureStart programs.

Noise canceling headphones, visual schedules and sensory toys all available for families to enjoy.

"It's nice to have resources about that for children with Autism and for kids of all abilities just so that he feels included in places like the zoo. The zoo is a big place and its fun for kids and it's to have a place where he feels included and not so overwhelmed," said parent Simone Hanner.

If they are ever feeling overwhelmed, the new sensory-friendly family room is the perfect place to go.

"I think it's fantastic they have these rooms. It's nice for kids that have sensory issues to be able to take a break if they need it and have somewhere that's quiet, have some toys they can relax with in this room. It's also nice for kids who are not on the spectrum in case they are at the zoo and need a little break then go out and enjoy the rest of the zoo," said parent Samara Condon.

The event gives kids of all abilities the chance to explore and learn all the things the zoo has to offer.

"I think that it's so important that the zoo understands that there's a need for this and they are responding to it," Condon said.

Brookfield Zoo also offers a Family Fun Saturday, which is a five-week program for children with disabilities as well.

Open Houses will be held 5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. April 12 and 9 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. April 22.

On April 7, Brookfield Zoo will also host an event for World Autism Awareness Month. The zoo's iconic lion statues will be clothed in blue scarves and blue flags will decorate the park's grounds.

Attendees can participate in special inclusive activities, such as special animal Zoo Chats, a quiet hour from 11 a.m. to noon on The Carousel, and a sensory-friendly Dolphins in Action presentation.

For more information, visit: https://www.czs.org/ZooForAll
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