Brookfield Zoo Opens Sensory-Friendly Family Room and New Resource Center for Guests with Autism and Other Disabilities as Part of the “Zoo for All” Inclusion Initiative
BROOKFIELD, IL – The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, is announcing the opening of a sensory-friendly family room as well as a new inclusion resource center at its Hamill Family Play Zoo that will help to make every family’s trip to the zoo a positive and inclusive one.
The new low-sensory room offers a quiet environment for children who may need a break from the potentially overstimulating environment of a day at the zoo. The room includes fidgets and other sensory-support materials, comfortable seating, blackout curtains, dimmable lights, and access to Wi-Fi. It is a safe and convenient place to deescalate before children and families return to their zoo visit.
Separately, the newly renovated resource center near the entrance of the Hamill Family Play Zoo provides useful information and tools to enhance a visit, including visual schedules, social stories, magazines, and noise-reducing headphones that are available to check out
“Brookfield Zoo is committed to providing a positive, innovative, and meaningful experience for all of our guests,” said David Becker, senior manager of learning experiences for CZS. “We’ve developed the “Zoo for All” initiative to ensure the inclusion of children, adults, and families of all abilities in the activities offered at Hamill Family Play Zoo and throughout the entire zoo.”
In addition, CZS hired an inclusion specialist, Lauren Reeder, who works with staff and volunteers to help them build the confidence and skills necessary to interact with and facilitate programs for individuals with disabilities. She also evaluates daily activities to ensure that all of the programming is inclusive for guests. Reeder, whose office is located in the Hamill Family Play Zoo, is available to families to help facilitate the unique and individual needs of a child or family member with a disability.
“We’ve had an amazing response from families who have visited the Hamill Family Play Zoo and seen the new spaces,” said Reeder. "I’ve had parents say the addition of the sensory-friendly family room and resource center make them feel welcomed. And, even if they never use them, knowing they are available, conveys a strong message that the zoo cares for all of its guests.”
Brookfield Zoo will host three open house events of Hamill Family Play Zoo's new features on March 17, April 12, and April 22. The open houses will include family-friendly events as well as opportunities to learn more about the “Zoo for All” initiative and programs at the exhibit, experience the new areas, and meet the play program staff, including the new inclusion specialist. Space is limited and reserved for families with children with disabilities. To register and to access additional information on the zoo’s accessible amenities, visit CZS.org/Brookfield-Zoo/Learning/Zoo-for-All.
The Chicago Zoological Society has long been committed to ensuring full accessibility and providing a welcoming environment for everyone at Brookfield Zoo. In addition to the recent renovations at Hamill Family Play Zoo, CZS also offers multiple programs that train individuals with disabilities for employment and volunteer opportunities, continually works to create inclusive opportunities within current programs, and makes a concerted effort to make its grounds, pathways, buildings, exhibits, and programs accessible to all zoogoers.
Funding for the new additions at Hamill Family Play Zoo was made possible in part by a two-and-a-half-year grant awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The funding will also support upcoming strategic initiatives focused on enhancing the exhibit’s messaging, educational programming, and public resources available to children, teens, and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
About the Chicago Zoological Society The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society is to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. The Chicago Zoological Society is a private nonprofit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The Society is known throughout the world for its international role in animal population management and wildlife conservation. Its Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare is at the forefront of animal care that strives to discover and implement innovative approaches to zoo animal management. Brookfield Zoo is the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, meeting American Humane Association’s rigorous certification standards. Open every day of the year, the zoo is located at 8400 31st Street in Brookfield, Illinois, between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and is also accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, CTA and PACE bus service. For further information, visit CZS.org.