Guide Dogs / Welsh Mountain Zoo

Blog: zoo accessibility with Guide Dogs UK and Welsh Mountain Zoo

Posted: 13th December, 2022

As accessibility and inclusion continues to be a growing topic in zoos and aquariums, Alexandra Davies, Education Manager at Welsh Mountain Zoo, writes about just how imperative accessibility is:  

A love of animals holds no restrictions. The natural world appeals to all ages, genders, nationalities and personalities. With this in mind, zoos and aquariums should be aiming to accomodate all visitor demographics to enjoy the spectacle of their animals. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for those living with accessibility needs. Whilst zoos and aquariums are striving for inclusivity, with the incorporation of sensory-based zones, activities and training within their collections, there are still many areas we can work to improve to provide the perfect day out for all visitors.

In the UK alone 2 million people are living with a visual impairment. Moreso, 250 people start to lose their eyesight every single day. These people are reported to not only incur lower feelings of wellbeing but also face greater restrictions to their participation in education. Visitors with visual impairments do not get to experience the awe-inspiring sight of our animals. Instead, they are reliant on the sounds, smells, taste, touch, movement, balance and introspective elements to imagine the world around them. Within education, we must explore these different sensory processes to shape our workshops and engagements, to fulfil the needs for our diverse range of guests.

As part of ongoing accessibility developments within the Welsh Mountain Zoo, we collaborated with Guide Dogs UK to provide a fun day out for families with visually impaired children. These organised events allow families to connect with others who share similar circumstances, seek guidance and advice from the Guide Dog team, and enjoy a great trip out with their needs at the forefront.  With this in mind, we organised inclusive workshops and talks for these families throughout the day.

The education team created a tactile workshop to encourage the families to learn though touch. We developed covered boxes containing animal artefacts, each with unique textures including bones, fur, teeth and skins. Visitors had to reach inside hand-holes and guess the mystery object without any visual aids. This simple activity proved very successful on many levels, as it not only allowed full-sighted family members to immerse themselves in the mind frame of those with impairments, but also removed many advantages, allowing everyone to engage on an equal footing.  

The accessibility activities extended into the zoo, where the keepers delivered sensory talks for the group, emphasising the smells of the tasty fish and the excitable bark of the sealions. Engaging the different senses during keeper talks, embraces guests who cannot see the antics of the animals, particularly during behaviour-based demonstration such as sealion and bird training displays.

Given the recent spotlight on the BIAZA Assistance dog advice and the alarming statistics of visual impairments in the UK populous, accessibility should be in the forefront of our programmes. Exploring avenues to adapt your education and management to enhance the visit of your visually impaired guests is becoming unavoidable for modern-day collections. Inclusivity should no longer be regarded as an optional extra but as standard practice. A love for animals has no barriers so neither should zoos and aquariums.

Alexandra Davies, Education Manager at Welsh Mountain Zoo

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions. 

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