30 Sep 2023 Attractions Management Handbook

Sign up for FREE ezine
Current issue
Attractions Management Handbook

View this issue online

view this issue contents
Buy print edition

Download PDF

Previous issues
Attractions Management Handbook
2017/2018 issue

View issue contents
View this issue online
Download PDF
Attractions Management Handbook
2016/2017 issue

View issue contents
View this issue online
Download PDF
Attractions Management Handbook
2015 issue

View issue contents
View this issue online
Download PDF
Attractions Management Handbook
2014 issue

View issue contents
View this issue online
Download PDF
Attractions Management Handbook
2013 issue

View issue contents
View this issue online
Download PDF
Attractions Management Handbook
2012 issue

View issue contents
View this issue online
Download PDF
Attractions Management Handbook
2011 issue

View issue contents
View this issue online
Attractions Management Handbook
2010 issue

View issue contents
View this issue online
Attractions Management Handbook - Sensory world


Sensory world

A growing number of attractions are working to become autism-friendly, by making themselves more accessible to people with sensory needs and offering special events and programmes directed at this audience. We take a closer look at what’s happening in the industry

Alice Davis
More attractions are tailoring programmes and activities to the needs of visitors with autism

Quiet at the Aquarium


Josh McCarty
Josh McCarty Head of Marketing National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth, UK

At the National Marine Aquarium we hold an event called Quiet at the Aquarium for people with sensory needs including autism. The event gives individuals and families living with sensory needs the opportunity to enjoy the aquarium as they want to. This means we turn off all of the noises that you would hear on a normal day and focus on our fish. Visitors are encouraged to ask questions, make noise and enjoy themselves.

The aquarium experience is scientifically proven to relax visitors anyway, and so with our team being on hand to answer questions and share our passions, we can support our guests.

We took advice from the National Autistic Society and some simple suggestions from the organisation have helped make our events so much more accessible. A key learning point was the provision of a Social Narrative that shows pictures of what to expect when visiting. But the biggest thing was listening to what families with sensory needs wanted – and that was time away from the crowds to enjoy the experience.

Feedback has been fantastic and these dedicated events have been really rewarding. Going forward, we intend to keep working on our accessibility. Currently we’re working on becoming dementia-friendly, which is opening up more opportunities for our communities near and far.

Top tip - “The familiarisation provided by the Social Narrative proved really popular for families attending our Quiet at the Aquarium events, but also for autistic visitors attending as day visitors”


Many attractions have special opening hours so visitors with autism can enjoy the experience without the crowds

Proud to be Accessible


John Childs
John Childs Managing Director Sandcastle Waterpark, Blackpool, UK

People tend to think access is all about wheelchair users, but wheelchair users make up just three per cent of people with disabilities. Many more people have learning difficulties and/or autism and I think it’s a matter of the industry waking up to that and making sure the right facilities are in place.

At Sandcastle Waterpark, we’re proud to be accessible to all and we have some of the best facilities for people with disabilities in the UK. For people with autism, it’s not about ramps, lifts and hoists, but about quiet rooms, easily accessible information, the ability to jump the queue, the offer of pre-visits, the presence of our Water Ambassadors and provisions like that.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning each person is individual and unique. Therefore, each person has their own wants and needs. Our approach has always been to listen and accommodate the wants and needs of every visitor and their support worker or family.

To do this we encourage people to phone us to discuss their visit ahead of time. We often arrange a pre-visit, which can be done when the waterpark is closed. This allows the visitor to establish a routine beforehand and familiarise himself or herself with the place.

We have online tools including a video about the attraction and a virtual tour.

When a guest with autism is here, they can use our dedicated changing rooms, relax in our quiet room with sensory equipment, jump the queue to get in and jump the queue for the rides as well as call on any of our ambassadors for support. We want to raise the profile of autism even higher so we are also training 10 Autism Ambassadors.

We work with organisations like Aiming Higher, Accessible Derbyshire, Blackpool Tiggers and Euan’s Guide. We go far and wide to talk to people about disabilities and reach out to the community. We have spoken in the US and Europe and take every opportunity, internationally, to reach out to decision makers about Inclusive Tourism and accessibility.

We work with these groups and a group called Disabled Go to deliver an ongoing programme of staff training. We also invite parents to share their experiences.

Top tip - “You need a champion at a strategic level in your organisation who believes in inclusive tourism, and then you need to get your whole team behind it”


Trained ‘ambassadors’ play an important role at Sandcastle Waterpark

Quiet rooms


Brittany Williams
Brittany Williams PR executive LEGOLAND Florida, Winter Haven, FL, USA

Working closely with Autism Speaks, we are installing a large panel of hands-on, sensory-stimulating activities in a quiet space within the theme park – the first of several planned projects designed to make LEGOLAND Florida Resort a more autism-friendly destination for children and families.

Under the partnership, Autism Speaks’ staff members and volunteers will consult on the development and installation of “quiet rooms” and other resort facilities designed to meet the needs of guests with autism.

To better educate our employees about the unique needs of guests on the autism spectrum, Autism Speaks’ staff members and volunteers will conduct training sessions at the resort at least twice a year and will supply educational material to be distributed to all new hires. Autism Speaks’ representatives also recommended that we create an online Social Narrative, a park map designed for guests with special needs and an update to our Guide for Guests with Disabilities.

Top tip - “The best approach is to listen to your customer when seeking ways to improve the experience. We were fortunate enough to have the expert advice of Autism Speaks, which was hugely beneficial in this process”


LEGOLAND Florida is introducing a number of autism-friendly initiatives

Early Birds, Nightowls and SENsory Science Night


Alexandra White
Alexandra White Special Events Team Leader Science Museum, London, UK

Here in the Science Museum we have three main events that are suitable for visitors with autism – Early Birds, Nightowls and SENsory Science Night.

Early Birds is suitable for families with children under the age of 15. We open the museum doors at 8.30am, which allows families to enjoy the galleries in a calmer, more relaxed environment and at a pace that suits them. We run our regular schedule of events, but may tweak them slightly to ensure they are suitable for the audience in attendance.

HIgh-functioning visitors
Each event centres around a specific theme that relates to our galleries and we always have workshops, demonstrations and characters to bring the content to life. It’s important to remember that every child and young adult is different and has different abilities and needs and not every child needs the content to be diluted. Many visitors are very high-functioning, highly skilled and knowledgeable.

Night Owls takes place in the evenings and is for young adults aged 16 to 25, in a similar format to Early Birds. We offer talks, demonstrations and workshops.

SENsory Science Night is a sleepover event similar in format to our Science Night sleepovers but on a much smaller scale. With fewer guests in attendance, families are able to have a more intimate experience with the museum and the highly trained staff.

Top tip - “Be flexible and willing to adapt what you currently offer. You don’t have to programme lots and lots of extra things – the museum is what the families want to see and additional content is just a bonus”


Demonstrations and workshops help bring content to life for visitors to the Science Museum

Special Days for Special Kids, Subway Sleuths


Meredith Martin Gregory
Meredith Martin Gregory Special Education and Access Coordinator New York Transit Museum, New York, NY, USA

We produce several different events and programmes for museum visitors with autism. The first, Special Days for Special Kids, is an event where we open the museum an hour early and families can enjoy the space while it’s less crowded. We offer a no judgement zone and a quiet, safe space where families can play and learn together while the needs of their child are being met.

We include special activities, like costume storytelling or transport-themed photo booths, and we play sensory-friendly live music. The activities continue once the museum opens to the public, encouraging them to stay on. It’s free, but families have to register in advance. Special Day for Special Kids is held one Sunday morning per semester at the Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn.

Subway Sleuths is another programme we offer students with a passion for trains and transportation. It aims to help with social interactions, language and friendships. This semester-long after-school programme is supervised by a speech language pathologist, special education teacher and museum educator.

Every Sleuths session has different activities that encourage working together. The students have roles which give them a clear understanding of what they should be doing in each activity and help them engage with each other. For example, one game we play is a scavenger hunt, so one Sleuth might be the clue finder, another is the clue reader and another is the clue recorder so they all have to check in with each other to complete the task.

Finally, every weekend we have family programmes and workshops that take place in our Education Center which are free with admission and run by educators who have been trained on disability sensitivity and to work with people with autism. All of our staff are trained on working with people with disabilities, from security to our store sales associates.

We also offer a free Sensory Kit which people of all ages can check out at the museum. It contains noise-quietening headphones, a map that highlights the location of quiet areas and a schedule so people can plan their activities. Many people with autism need structure when they’re in a new place. It reduces anxiety when they know what to expect.

Before the visit, guests can read a Social Narrative online which describes in first person, with pictures, what to expect. Our museum can be noisy, busy and overwhelming so any information about the sensory challenges to expect is helpful.

I’m also planning more programmes that are specifically directed at teens and adults with autism and I’m looking to diversify our workplace by increasing the number of staff we have with autism.

Top tip - “One of the most important things is to train your staff, both basic disability sensitivity training and training on autism. Make it known in your community that you have trained staff and people will feel more comfortable about visiting you”


New York Transit Museum attracts lots of visitors who have autism

Morning stars


Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison Senior Manager of Astronomy Education Planetarium, London, UK

We offer a planetarium show called Morning Stars which runs periodically through the year for family audiences and when requested for schools. This show was developed with our local ASD (autism spectrum disorder) networks and museum access officer to make sure we were creating something that was appropriate for our audience. The show takes the visitors through space to explore planets, stars and galaxies before returning to our own Planet Earth – and all in a morning’s work.

Understanding autism and how visitors with ASD might experience our spaces was crucial before we could start to create any programmes. We created a Social Narrative so our visitors could prepare for the day by finding out what our buildings look like, who we are and what the surroundings might be like.

For the planetarium show itself we removed the ambient music and brought the lighting levels up a little higher which means it’s always possible to see the people around you and how to exit the planetarium if needed. When we run Morning Stars we don’t open the show to anyone other than groups with ASD and this has been a popular decision. Our audiences with ASD had a shared concern that they might disturb other visitors or disrupt the show. Providing them with a show to themselves has eliminated that fear and allowed them to focus on enjoying the experience instead.

Top tip - “When we were developing the show, we received crucial feedback about the lighting and sound levels we were using so tweaked them to suit the audience better – subtle but crucial changes that mean ASD groups can come and enjoy the experience too”


A showing exclusively for groups of visitors with autism has proved popular

Zooper heroes camp


Chad Fifer
Chad Fifer Education Director Zooper Heroes Camp, Nashville Zoo, Nashville, TN, USA

Zooper Heroes Camp is a specialised summer offering for children with autism and their parents, although we have not limited the programme to only children on the autism spectrum.

The day camp is offered to children with special needs who will benefit from having individual support from a parent or professional. Campers will meet animals in the classroom, visit exhibits throughout the zoo, make crafts and play games to connect information discussed in the classroom with the animal kingdom.

Campers are asked to have an adult with them each day of camp, with no additional cost for the adult. The adult can be a parent, guardian or paraprofessional. Supports are included for campers throughout the day such as a visual schedule, visual supports, first/then boards, quiet areas and choice boards.

Nashville Zoo has been working with Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) to form the structure of the camp. As well as helping us design and administer our Zooper Heroes Camp, TRIAD provides staff training yearly for us at the zoo, and provides continual support as we work to develop more autism supports and make them more readily available to our guests.

Community support has been fantastic. We’re only three years into the programmes and our partnership with TRIAD, so we’re still building community awareness that our supports exist and are available all year. My goal is to have our supports available on a daily basis to zoo guests and have them properly advertised at our front entrance.

Top tip - “It is often difficult to overcome the hurdle of feeling like you are not an expert, which is why I cannot stress enough finding a local organisation to partner with and support you. Those organisations want to spread awareness of autism as much as you do and they can help make your facility more inclusive”


The Zooper Heroes Camp allows parents or carers to accompany a child with autism

Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2016 edition

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | Advertise | © 2023 Cybertrek Ltd