On 30 June 2018 Belfast Zoo will hold its first ever ‘sensory day’! This new event will allow visitors on the autism spectrum or with other sensory requirements, and their family and friends to enjoy a ‘zooper’ day out.
The zoo will open an hour early, at 9am, to allow entry before the busy crowds. Early opening will allow families to explore the sights and sounds of the zoo in a calm and relaxed atmosphere, without the noise and crowds that can be challenging for children and adults with sensory needs. Visitors arriving later can skip ahead with a fast track queue system throughout the day.
As well as all their favourite animals, feeding times and keeper talks, visitors can feel real objects at touch tables. Hullabaloo will be brought to life with enchanting live action storytelling, props and scenery from Mr Hullabaloo’s interactive children’s theatre. The zoo will also be joined by the team from Mini Explorers for interactive, animal-themed sensory play. For those that need a break, quiet zones can be found throughout the zoo including a calm dark den with sensory lighting.
Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, explains: “We are committed to providing a family-focused experience that is supportive and enjoyable for visitors with sensory needs. The zoo is not only a vital educational resource for children but it is also a fantastic day out and a great opportunity to create memories as a family. We want to play an active role in making inclusivity the norm in Northern Ireland and to making the zoo a welcoming day out for everyone.”
Alyn continues: “Following the success of the ‘quiet hours’ that we ran in 2017, the zoo team completed Autism Awareness training with Autism NI which allowed us to identify other ways to improve the zoo experience and inspired the development of a range of other resources, aimed at supporting families during the planning process and during their visit. Not only did this training drive the decision to run a sensory day but it also led to the creation of a downloadable visual guide which has received great feedback. This guide is designed to let visitors know in advance what they can expect from their trip to the zoo and plan accordingly to minimise any potential stress. However, this is just the start of our plans and we will continue to make improvements. We look forward to welcoming everyone to the zoo for our first ever sensory day.”
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