Complimentary earbuds, sensory maps and staff training helps Fota secure Autism-Friendly status

Complimentary earbuds, sensory maps and staff training helps Fota secure Autism-Friendly status
Sean McKeown, Director of Fota Wildlife Park, Roisín Fitzgerald, Fota Wildlife Park and Adam Harris, CEO and Founder of AsIAm at the announcement that Fota Wildlife Park, one of the country's leading visitor attractions, has been given Autism-Friendly Accreditation from AsIAm, Ireland's National Autism Charity. Picture: Darragh Kane Photography

Fota Wildlife Park has been given Autism-Friendly Accreditation after staff underwent training to assist autistic people, and their families, visiting the attraction.

The award from Irish Autism Charity, AsIAm follows a period of training and the development of tools and supports 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 and how they experience the world around them. 

One in 65 people in Ireland are autistic and face accessibility barriers in engaging in many basic day to day activities. 

Understanding communication, predicting what will happen next, managing the sensory environment and other people’s attitudes can all pose challenges for autistic people. Simple changes to how things work, such as clearer communication and providing quiet spaces, can make the experience easier and allow autistic people to fully participate. 

The accreditation process for Fota included two days of staff training, an environmental evaluation and the development of a plan to ensure the initiative is sustained meaningfully over time. 

Aisling Foran, AsIAm’s Head of Training 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 but Fota Wildlife Park is the first major visitor 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 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 earbuds, inclusion of a social story and soundbites on the website and training in recognising the needs of visitors who may experience sensory issues.” 

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