The attraction has been accredited by National Autism Charity as an example of best practise in accessibility
Monday 26th August: Fota Wildlife Park, one of the country’s leading family attractions, yesterday received Autism-Friendly Accreditation from AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism Charity. The award comes following a period of training and the development of tools and supports to assist autistic people, and their families, visiting the attraction and the development of an autism inclusion charter which makes short, medium and long term commitments to autism accessibility.
Autism is a lifelong, invisible developmental condition which relates to how a person communicates and interacts with others. In addition, it impacts how they (1 in 65 in Ireland) experience the world around them. They generally face accessibility barriers in engaging in many basic day to day activities. Understanding communication, predicting what will happen next, managing sensory environments and others’ attitudes can all pose challenges for autistic people. Simple changes to how things work, such as clearer communication and providing quiet spaces make a big difference. These changes can make the experience easier and allow autistic people to fully participate. AsIAm supports organisations in making these changes through its Autism-Friendly Accreditation Scheme
Aisling Foran, AsIAm’s Head of Training and Business Advisory Services, oversaw the accreditation process. This process included 2 days of staff training, an environmental evaluation and the development of a plan. The plan included short, medium and long term goals to ensure the initiative is sustained meaningfully over time. Speaking ahead of the Accreditation, Foran said “It has been a real pleasure to work alongside the team at Fota Wildlife Park. We were highly impressed by their willingness to put in place small changes which will make a big impact in the lives of autistic people. Being autism-friendly is a process of constant improvement and we look forward to continuing to support the Wildlife Park and our community members as they embark on this exciting journey”
AsIAm has worked with a broad range of organisations, businesses and public services as part of its Autism-Friendly Accreditation Scheme. However, Fota Wildlife Park is the first major tourist attraction to receive the award. Speaking of the experience and what this means for visitors, Roisin Fitzgerald, Marketing Manager of Fota Wildlife Park said
“We are delighted to receive the accreditation from AsIAm today, and we consider this to be a major step in the journey to further improve the experience of the visitors living with ASD at Fota Wildlife Park. AsIAm have provided training for our core public-facing staff and have performed an environmental evaluation and audited the 100-acre visitor attraction. They’ve provided extremely helpful, insightful and practical solutions and suggestions in improving the quality of the visit for our visitors in the autism community -such as creating a sensory map, providing complimentary ear buds, inclusion of a social story and soundbites on the website and training in recognising the needs of visitors who may experience sensory issues
AsIAm Accreditation is a rigorous but achieveable process for organisation to undertake. Indeed, Adam Harris, Founder-CEO of AsIAm, who travelled to Fota Wildlife Park to make the Award said “Our autism-Friendly accreditation is an achievable but challenging designation to receive. It requires real changes to how things work in terms of the sensory environment, promotional materials and staff attitude. Fota Wildlife Park’s’s journey towards accreditation shows a real and genuine effort to be universally inclusive”.
“We are incredibly proud to have worked with Fota Wildlife Park and supported them on their autism-friendly journey. Autistic people, and our families, want to do the same things as everyone else and thatincludes recreational activities. Fota Wildlife Park is one of the leading family attractions in the State and so for them to show leadership on this issue is incredibly important. Being autism-friendly greatly enriches the lives of our community members but it also opens up new opportunities for organisations that make the commitment and so we hope others will follow Fota’s lead in the near future” Mr Harris continued
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