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Designing Your Experience for Inclusion

By: Steve Williams, Chief Experience Champion  |  Posted On:

Designing Your Experience for Inclusion

Large crowds, long queues, loud noises and unfamiliar smells. Just some of the many experiences we face as a traveler, particularly in New York City! While some of us can cope with these delights of the senses, for those on the autism spectrum this can prove challenging or even unbearable. About 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

Given how tourism is all about receiving an experience, understanding that all human beings interpret experiences differently based on our sensory analysis is critical. The question rises as to how do we make our experiences more inclusive to everyone, particularly those on the autism spectrum?

In 2017, I was Manager of Guest Experience Operations at Taronga Zoo Sydney, we received feedback from families with children on the autism spectrum about how they had encountered minor and avoidable negative experiences. Looking at the issues that were surfacing, we identified a lot of opportunity in turning the experience around through a new program designed to accommodate the needs of guests on the autism spectrum.

Working with all departments of the Zoo and in partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia, we launched Access Taronga Day in 2017. The Zoo opened an hour earlier to provide exclusive access and we made modifications such as extra team members to avoid queues, reduce the volume of background music in the park and in theatre experiences, had extra team members that were well trained in awareness of autism communication and needs. Attendance to the event completely surpassed expectations and the reception in the autism community was very warm with the event now a quarterly fixture.

Day to day, we rolled out 'VIP Badges' which guests could collect on arrival to help our team members provide support such as modifying the way they communicate, assisting them in queues (and bypassing queues if needed), turning down volumes in the theaters and providing extra care when boarding onto the cable car.

We also developed social stories, an in depth downloadable booklet which outlined step by step the experience that guests can expect. The aim of this is to educate guests on the autism spectrum about what to expect, rules that must be followed and the sorts of sensory perceptions they will encounter.

The program has been highly successful in terms of making the experience more inclusive, Zoo team members more empathetic and overall contributing to a community that were overwhelmingly grateful.

I hope this case study inspires more tourism stakeholders to travel the inclusion journey, it's been personally rewarding and is heartwarming to know the team I worked with had made a difference in people's lives.

For an overview of Access Taronga Day checkout this video.
To checkout the social story
(CDC, 2018) Data

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About the Author
Steve is a passionate tourism advocate with over 14 years experience in leading hotels, attractions, aquariums and zoos across Australia and the United States. From leading the guest experience at Taronga Zoo Sydney with 1.8 million guests per year, overseeing operations at Sydney Aquarium to Senior Operations Manager for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts in Australia, he holds a diverse practical understanding of the industry at its roots. His passion for 'incredible experiences' and 'extraordinary workplace cultures' fueled his excitement to become Chief Experience Champion for Experience Champions in New York City which is sparking a movement for transforming customer and employee experience through workshops, training, team building and events that inspire leaders to tap into their purpose. As a recently declared New Yorker, Steve is excited to be living in one of the world's tourism powerhouses. Learn more about Steve at www.experiencechampions.com or email steve@experiencechampions.com.


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