At Fresno Chaffee Zoo, we strive to be a zoo for everyone. We know that our goals of conservation, education and creating connections to nature can only be realized if all our guests feel safe, supported and welcome. As we work to create immersive, multi-sensory experiences such as Sea Lion Cove, African Adventure and the upcoming Kingdoms of Asia, we also understand those experiences may be overwhelming for some guests.
In 2019, we began working with Valley Children’s and other local partners to better understand the needs of our communities and ways that we could be better. The result of this collaborative work was a suite of solutions designed to make the Zoo a better experience for everyone, but especially those with sensory sensitivities or on the autism spectrum. By creating resources, training our staff and working with partners, we laid a foundation that we continue to build on today. From our website to the actual experience visiting the Zoo, the goal was to make the whole Zoo experience more inclusive.
One of the key components of this was the addition of George’s Pass at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, adapted from the successful program at Valley Children’s Hospital. This free program allows guests visiting the Zoo to check out a special George’s Pass backpack for the duration of their visit. Within each backpack, we provide noise-cancelling headphones, small manipulatives and sensory toys, and a Zoo map showing headphone zones and quiet zones. Guests can also request a George’s Pass sticker to wear during their visit. This enables Zoo staff to help ensure these special guests are able to have a positive and successful visit.
This program will continue to evolve and grow as we all work to become a zoo for everyone. We are so grateful to Valley Children’s for their support and collaboration and excited for future opportunities to partner to improve health, wellness and connection in our community.
We invite you to watch the video below to learn more about George’s Pass at Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
About the Author
Dean Watanabe is the chief mission officer at Fresno Chaffee Zoo.