by Mark A. Trieglaff
Zoos and aquariums are popular sources of education and recreation for people
of all ages. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association reported
that its members had 134 million visitors in 1998. This total is
greater than the attendance at all professional baseball, basketball
and football games combined.
While zoos and aquariums are sources of enjoyment for many people, could
a visit to the zoo be difficult for some individuals? Maybe even
impossible? Can a person with a disability easily visit a zoo or
aquarium? How can they know?
Many accessibility laws have helped increase accessibility at certain zoos
and aquariums. Laws such as the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968
and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in 1978, prohibit any
federal agency or agencies receiving federal funding from discriminating
against or excluding people with disabilities from entering these
facilities or participating in programming. Thus any zoo or aquarium
receiving federal funds were required to meet accessibility standards
as set by these laws.
|Zoo visitors study exhibit.
Accessibility to both zoos and aquariums has increased even more thanks
to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights
law for people with disabilities. Its basic intent is to eliminate
discrimination against a person with a disability. One of the specific
provisions of the ADA is to insure that public accommodations are
accessible and zoos are listed as one example of accommodations required
to be accessible. As a result a person with a disability should find
a zoo or aquarium accessible or in the process of removing barriers.
For many facilities, this will be a long process because of the age
of their facilities and the cost to remove barriers. It would be important
to preplan your visit. The extent of accessibility could help make
or break your visit. In order to avoid potential problems when planning
a visit to the zoo, you should take some time to gather information
before your visit. Some initial steps and ideas follow.
FIRST STEPS BEFORE YOU VISIT
A good and easy way to begin is to check the Internet site of the
zoo or aquarium. The web page may provide some basic information about
the zoo. More zoos are becoming aware of including accessibility information
on the Internet. This is an easy place to get started.
If you do not have access to the internet, place a call to the zoo. When
you call, ask if there is a person who is the Accessibility Coordinator.
The Accessibility Coordinator should be able to answer your questions.
The chances are there is not a single staff person with that exclusive
responsibility for accessibility. If the zoo does not have an Accessibility
Coordinator, the next step is to ask if there is a person that has
knowledge of accessibility. With this question, you potentially
are going to be in contact with many different people. You should
stress a specific access issue (if possible). For example, if you
use a wheelchair, the person that could answer questions about access
of the facilities is from the Building and Grounds Department. If
you have a visual impairment and are looking for adapted materials
in Braille, large print, recordings, etc., consider contacting the
Education Department or the specific animal buildings with handouts
for their animal exhibits. Also request printed materials that could
help facilitate your visit. These materials could include:
|Young zoo visitor enjoys exhibit.
Accessibility Maps - This map should provide all the general information
about the institution. However, it should provide important accessibility
information related to your disability. If you need it, request
an alternate format such as large print. Some institutions have
developed 3-D maps in Braille to assist people with more severe
Access Brochures - These brochures should provide a person with general
accessibility information on auxiliary aids, programs, contact people,
services and other access information. Typically, this brochure
is helpful for people who are group leaders such as activity directors,
special education instructors, group home staff, etc.
|A family studies zoo exhibit through viewing window.
Special Events - A special event brochure should have the events for
the year. If you are interested in one particular special event,
ask if they have a more detailed flyer or brochure. Ask for additional
details about the special event location, activities, etc. While
the event might not be able to be moved, other accommodations or
options for your participation could be possible.
Educational Classes - All education departments will have a brochure
or flyer about their upcoming classes. Typically, the classes are
listed by seasons. If you decide that you would like to attend a
specific class, call the instructor or leader about the requirements
you have. Different auxiliary aids, changes in class location, adaptation
of materials and/or information, etc. should be discussed. Some
facilities are still learning about providing inclusive opportunities
for programs. As a result, you might need to assist them with this
Group Rates - Many facilities have a group rate or reduced rate for
people with disabilities. If they do not have a group or reduced
rate, ask if there are any special priced days. Some institutions
have free or reduced rate days. These special rates or days can
sometimes save a substantial amount of money.
SPECIFIC QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FACILITY
Besides requesting written information, there may be specific questions to
assist in planning your visit, including:
- Is there an accessible or an easy entrance into the zoo? Most zoos, museums,
or aquariums have several entrances into their building or park.
Some entrances can be very difficult because of terrain or the
design of the building. Several older buildings have designed
accessible entrances that might be away from the main entrance
or main parking areas. Rather than hunting for the best place
to enter, ask the staff members for their opinion and directions.
- Are there accessible parking spaces by this entrance? Some entrances are
still quite a distance from the accessible parking spaces. Try
to find out which one is the best.
- Is there a drop off area near an accessible or an easy entrance? If you
are traveling with a friend who is driving, they might be able
to drop you off near the entrance before they park. Dropping off
first can cut down on your travel time and allow more energy for
the rest of the day.
- Another option may be public transportation that comes to or near an
entrance. Some public bus systems will come right to a main entrance.
Other systems such as a subway or train station might have a shuttle
bus available to bring people to the institution.
- Are certain days or times of the year busier than others? Some institutions
can have 30 to 40 thousand people in one day. These days can be
difficult for a person with a disability. Longer waits in lines,
more people using auxiliary aids, harder to see exhibits, less
of a chance to use interactive features, etc. can make for a long,
tiring and sometimes frustrating day.
- Most zoos cover many acres. If you are going to be walking consider planning
your route by location of water fountains and benches. Ask if
the map shows the location of water fountains? Most maps will
show location of water fountains. These areas typically will have
benches next to them or nearby
- Are there special programs and/or demonstrations planned for the day you'd
like to attend? Many free demonstrations occur during each day.
Check to see if specific times are scheduled, where the activity
is located, and if a reservation is needed. Some demonstrations
might be limited by space and require a reservation.
- Are there any places to touch or see animals up close? Specific areas
might provide these opportunities. If you have a group, you might
be able to schedule a specific time. For these types of programs
or activities, try to do them early in the day. Late mornings
and afternoons can get very crowded and make the experience more
Questions by Specific Disability
Asking these questions can help your visit start on the right foot.
Many institutions are making great strides at increasing their facilities'
accessibility. However, they might be very accessible for one type
of disability and then very inaccessible for another. If you have
specific accessibility needs, ask questions that answer your specific
needs. Some questions by specific disabilities could include:
People with Physical and Mobility Impairments
|Petting zoo visitor and goat.
- What are the walkways like? Are there any areas that are rugged or hilly
terrain? Are there shorter routes that allow me to see a lot of
animals in a short distance?
- How accessible are the exhibits? Some exhibits try to be natural such
as a rough walkway, rocky or uneven surfaces, do you have any
like that? If so, is there an easier route to see these animals?
Some times there are a lot of plants and rock work in the way,
Where are the best viewing areas to see from a wheelchair? Usually
these viewing areas are good for a person who is shorter or for
- Do you have a transportation system that goes around the park? Am I able
to get off at different areas to see those exhibits and then get
on a later tram? Is the transportation wheelchair accessible?
- Do you rent items that can help people get around the zoo, such as wheelchairs,
strollers, wagons, or electronic convenience vehicles?
People with Visual Impairments
People with Hearing Impairments
- Are large print maps available? Where can I pick one up when I arrive?
- Are handouts available in large print and Braille? Where can I pick one
up when I arrive?
- Is there a guidebook in alternate formats? Where can I pick one up when
- Are there tape recordings of the guide book and handouts?
- Do you have recordings of animals and information about them? This might
enhance the visit especially if recordings are at the specific
- Do you have a service animal policy? Some breeds of animals react very
strongly to the presence of a dog or other animal. Special precautions
are sometimes necessary to ensure the safety of the zoo's collection
and the service animal itself.
- Are there any animal statues or animals cutouts available to touch? Where
are they located? These statues and cutouts provide people with
an idea of size and shape of animals it might be difficult to
see from a distance.
- Are viewing windows at different exhibits? Many exhibits include viewing
windows for easier viewing of animals. Some exhibits include heat
coils near the windows that encourage animals to lay up close
during cooler weather.
- Are assistive listening devices available for all narrated shows and tours?
These devices will provide for more effective communication.
- Are sign language interpreters already available? Or should I make an
appointment with someone? If so, who?
- Do you have a TTY available? Some facilities might have both public TTY's
and ones that are used at a specific location like a switch board.
Many older couples enjoy a visit to the zoo. Sometimes, one of the
spouses requires assistance to use a restroom. Ask if there are "family
bathrooms" or unisex bathrooms available. These restroom facilities
allow personal care assistance without creating a difficult or uncomfortable
situation in the public washroom.
Other guests find these restroom useful as well. Family restrooms are useful
for single parents or one parent with several children. Some groups,
such as those with disabilities, might also need assistance in the
restrooms. Many times the group leaders are of the opposite sex.
Typical restroom facilities would make this situation difficult
|Man gets around zoo using electronic convenience vehicle.
Some individuals or groups might have a variety of medical needs
and require special equipment to enjoy their zoo visit. If you are
visiting and have people with medical needs, it might be helpful
to alert security of your visit. Many are trained emergency medical
technicians (EMT) and can help in any type of medical situation.
If you do not want to store the equipment in your vehicle, check
with security about storing equipment in their first aid office.
Making a phone call and asking questions like the ones above should make
visiting a zoo or aquarium more rewarding. A positive experience
will allow you to enjoy the recreational and educational opportunities
these institutions offer. You can then become a part of the growing
group that enjoy a day at the zoo.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark A. Trieglaff has worked for over 20 years with accessibility issues
including the development of accessible programs, services and consultation
on accessible design. Prior to joining LCM Architects, he was the
access coordinator for the Brookfield (IL) Zoo. Trieglaff has developed
and conducted numerous training programs on accessibility issues
and has been involved at the national level promoting access features
in public museums, aquariums and zoos.
About this Article
This article was edited for the National Center on Physical Activity and
Disability, a collaborative project of the National Center on Accessibility,
the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Rehabilitation Institute
of Chicago. NCPAD is headquartered at the Department of Disability
and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago,1640 West
Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL 60608-6904. NCPAD is funded by the Secondary
Conditions Prevention Branch, Office on Disability and Health, Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. www.ncpad.org
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