The Kennedy Center Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD), a nationally-recognized network focused on accessibility services has awarded Shedd Aquarium with the Community Asset Award for its “All Are Welcome: Accessibility and Inclusion” initiative. The honor recognizes achievements of cultural arts administrators or organizations that continually demonstrate success with access initiatives, improving accessibility for the disability community within their organization, city, state or region.
Shedd’s award-winning accessibility and inclusion program aims to foster a welcoming and inclusive culture, provide effective communication and multisensory experiences, maintain a barrier-free facility, and offer opportunities for social interaction and independence for guests with disabilities. The aquarium currently offers 3D mobile models, tactile graphics, and audio described aquatic presentations for guests who are blind or have low vision; assisted listening devices and captioning for guests who are Deaf or hard of hearing; sound reducing headphones and a Sensory Friendly App designed with guests with autism or a sensory processing disorder in mind. The program was spearheaded by the aquarium’s Access and Inclusion Task Force, a cross-departmental team comprising more than 20 staff members from 15 different departments throughout the aquarium.
“All Are Welcome: Accessibility and Inclusion” at Shedd Aquarium also received top honors from the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Angela Peterson Excellence in Diversity Award last year.
Shedd has worked closely with community partners to receive feedback on visitor experience, program development and guests needs, to guide new accessibility initiatives. The innovation through these collaborative efforts is essential to ensuring the aquarium remains a leader when it comes to accessible offerings.
Designing the Polar Play Zone, nearly a decade ago, was Shedd’s first attempt at universal design by providing shared play experiences for children with diverse abilities. The interactive space included ramps, low countertops, a wheelchair transfer point, varied access points for flexibility in use and more. Today, Shedd Aquarium continues to exemplify that there should be no boundaries to experiencing all of the aquarium’s offerings.