Setting the Standard – Inclusiveness at the Kansas City Zoo
The Need for Inclusiveness
- Sensory and social skill issues that can make public experiences difficult
- Lack of truly inclusive opportunities at major attractions such as a zoo or park
- Equipment and venues that are ADA compliant, but still pose hurdles to some individuals
As “inclusion” becomes more than a buzzword, organizations are rethinking the design and build of public projects. One such project is the partnership between the Kansas City Zoo (over a million visitors per year) and Variety KC (a not-for-profit providing equipment and opportunities for children with special needs).
The Grand Opening: Variety KC Exploration Play – an All Inclusive Experience
Friday, May 4th – 10:30 am at the Kansas City Zoo
Variety Supporter and Royals Pitcher, Danny Duffy will speak as representatives of Variety KC.
Accessible is not necessarily inclusive according to Deborah Wiebrecht, the Executive Director of Variety KC. No other Zoo in the nation has launched such an inclusive effort.
From the play surface, throughout each feature of the natural play area, every consideration has been made for absolute inclusiveness. The partnership started in 2017, as FOTZ was planning for a new Nature Play area at the Zoo, Variety KC was consulted in order to ensure the area’s features were inclusive to children with disabilities.
- An “elephant swing” that is accessible for children with special needs, but accommodates multiple children – encouraging engagement among all kids on the swing.
- Special solid surfacing will allow children in power wheelchairs or using gait walkers to access all areas of the exhibit. (Although ADA accepted, a single piece of mulch from a mulched playground surface can damaging the mechanics of a $10,000 power wheelchair.)
- Low sensory area for calming children and for breast-feeding mothers seeking privacy.
- Special sensory kits with weighted blankets and noise canceling headphones are available for checkout.
Wiebrecht explains that the most important part of this effort is the social aspect of the play area. “Play time is the key time for children to learn to interact, to resolve conflict, and realize we’re all different. Because the majority of playgrounds and play areas are not inclusive, some children don’t often meet their peers with special needs. Inclusive opportunities like the zoo’s will allow peers to meet and play together, overcoming obstacles and differences together. This is how a caring community is created, this is how to raise open-minded, empathetic, and cooperative adults.”
The inclusiveness extends beyond children. This totally accessible and inclusive destination is also a benefit to grandparents who may be mobility challenged, or for a parent who may be a disabled veteran. “One out of four families has a member with a disability. Can you imagine excluding 25% of your friends from joining you?” asks Wiebrecht.
Everyone benefits from regular physical activity, especially children with special needs. Most disabilities can be accommodated with adaptive equipment or technique adjustments – the benefits are many:
- Improvement in muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility.
- Improved exercise endurance, cardiovascular efficiency
- Better balance, motor skills and body awareness
- Improved behavior, academics, focus, self-confidence
- Experiences a sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction
- Can increase appetite, improve quality of sleep
- Decrease in secondary health complications like obesity, high blood pressure, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and diabetes
- Provides outlet for physical energy, helps them cope with anxiety, stress and depression
- Offers opportunities to engage with “typical” friends and family members