The aquarium has always been a fun attraction for families to visit, but is not always possible for families with members on the autism spectrum. Certain sensory sensitivities experienced by individuals with autism can cause what is meant to be an entertaining family outing, turn into a bad experience. One aquarium in Arizona was aware of this, and made the necessary strides to be a more inclusive attraction.
On July 9, 2019 Scottsdale’s OdySea Aquarium became the state’s first attraction certified autism center, recognized by the International Board of Credentialing and Continued Education Standards. Now, families with members on the spectrum can visit the aquarium without worry, as the experience has been tailored to their needs. Jessica Peranteau, OdySea’s Director of Animal Care and Education, told 12News, “This is a big step for us because it means we are extending our educational experience with our guests and we are extending that to everybody we are all-inclusive.”
Speaking on other changes, Peranteau also told 12News, “Our lighting was adjusted, our music was adjusted, our exhibits—we interpreted them a little bit differently.” These adjustments were made to all of OdySea Aquarium’s 65 exhibits, holding over 370 species. Additionally, staff members underwent intense training and testing to ensure certification standards and the best visitor experience.
Not only is the aquarium the first in the state to be a certified autism center, it is also the first tourism centered facility to be accredited. “We’ve always been connected with our visitors in the Valley,” Peranteau said. “We want to be the community’s aquarium, and as one of the newer attractions in Arizona, we wanted to reach that community.” The aquarium has become a leading example of attractions making necessary changes to be more inclusive of all.