The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores has been certified as a sensory inclusive facility by KultureCity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sensory accessibility and acceptance.
This new initiative will promote an accommodating and positive experience for all visitors, including those with sensory needs, according to the release Thursday.
Sensory sensitivities or challenges with sensory regulation are often experienced by individuals with autism, dementia, PTSD and similar conditions. One of the major barriers for these individuals is sensitivity to over stimulation and noise.
“We are very excited to partner with KultureCity to meet the sensory needs of any guest with sensory issues,” said Liz Baird, North Carolina Aquarium director. “We’ve added signs to identify areas that might be a bit overwhelming and areas that are quieter.”
Families can download the free KultureCity App before visiting to view what sensory features are available and where to access them. Also, on the App is the Social Story that provides a preview of what to expect at the aquarium.
“To know that you soon will be able to see families attend the aquarium, a true community binding experience, with their loved ones who have a sensory challenge and who were not able to previously attend, is truly a heartwarming moment,” said Dr. Julian Maha, co-founder, KultureCity. “Our communities are what shapes our lives and to know that the aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone, no matter their ability, is included in their community is amazing.”
Guests will have access to sensory bags equipped with noise canceling headphones provided by Puro Sound Labs, fidget tools, verbal cue cards, and weighted lap pads if they feel overwhelmed.
“The items in the sensory bag are specially designed to help individuals with sensory needs. We know from our Seaside Sensory Fun Day event that the aquarium can be exciting and fun, but also overstimulating at times,” said aquarium educator Ellie Fallaize. “Our three-story waterfall and touch pools are fan favorites, but also can be noisy and overwhelming environments. Having noise canceling headphones really helps to dampen that sound and create a space where everyone has a meaningful aquarium adventure.”
There are also dedicated quiet areas for those who may need to take a break.
“We are so excited to have begun creating an inclusive environment at the aquarium with KultureCity, and we have just put our foot through the door,” Fallaize said. “Inclusion is a mindset, and we are all so much better when every voice is heard.”
Many of the aquarium’s staff attended online training on how to recognize and help those guests with sensory needs.
“Our staff have participated in the online training and now have a deeper understanding of the ways that we can best support our visitors with sensory needs,” Baird said. “We have always been welcoming, but now we have more training and tools that allow us to help every guest have a terrific experience.”
Fallaize added that staff welcomes feedback from visitors. “It is by working together, as a community, that we will truly be successful,” said Fallaize. “We are committed to creating a culture of caring, compassion, and inclusion.”