Posted on 28/03/2022 by Phillip Island Nature Parks
Iconic Phillip Island attractions now sensory inclusive
Phillip Island Nature Parks’ world-famous tourism attractions have become the first in Australia to be officially certified as sensory inclusive.
The Nature Parks has partnered with global organisation KultureCity to provide a sensory inclusive environment for people with sensory processing challenges, often experienced by individuals with autism, PTSD, dementia, stroke, and other similar conditions.
Designated quiet areas and headphone zones have been introduced in strategic locations across the Nature Parks visitor attractions. Weighted lap pads and sensory bags filled with items such as noise cancelling headphones, fidget tools and verbal cue cards are available for those who may experience sensory overload while visiting.
Nature Parks staff have also completed specialised training to help them identify when a visitor is experiencing sensory overload and understand what they can do to help.
The Penguin Parade, Churchill Island, Antarctic Journey at the Nobbies, and the Koala Conservation Reserve are the first tourism attractions in Australia to be officially certified as sensory inclusive by KultureCity, and is the latest step in the Nature Parks’ longstanding efforts to become more accessible and inclusive to all visitors.
To launch this initiative, the Nature Parks will be holding its first Sensory-Friendly night at the Penguin Parade on Saturday 2 April, World Autism Awareness Day.
Visitor numbers will be capped at a lower number to reduce the sensory input generated by a lot of visitors, and light and noise levels will also be lowered in key locations, to make the experience even more inclusive.
Nature Parks General Manager of Tourism Operations Peta Wittig said she hoped these initiatives would help families and carers feel more confident and comfortable visiting the Nature Parks – so that everyone can enjoy a fun experience.
“We want everyone to be able to come and enjoy our attractions but we understand it can be an overwhelming experience for those with sensory processing difficulties, which is why this has been a focus of ours,” Ms Wittig said.
“Becoming certified as sensory inclusive and introducing these new initiatives are the next steps in the ongoing development of our Accessibility Action Plan, and the Nature Parks’ journey to be accessible to everyone.”
Emmit Cavanagh, 12 has Autism Spectrum Disorder. He lives on Phillip Island, but has never seen the penguin parade because it could be too noisy for him.
When Emmit is in an environment he finds overwhelming, with noise, crowds and not knowing what to expect, he will ‘shut down’ and go into his own world.
Mum, Jane, says the family avoids going to attractions like the penguin parade in case Emmit feels uncomfortable and upset.
The sensory distractions at the parade, such as the quiet area and noise cancelling headphones, will mean that Emmit feels safe and in control, giving Jane peace of mind.
“Knowing that we can visit the penguin parade as a family means the world to us. I get worried before we go somewhere, just in case it’s too much for Emmit. When Emmit feels really uncomfortable, he can wander away, which is obviously dangerous and scary,” Jane Cavanagh said.
“If Emmit knows he can retreat to a quiet area or do something distracting with his hands, he will feel a lot more comfortable and start to enjoy what’s happening around him.”
“As Phillip Island locals we are so excited to finally watch the penguins come in from the ocean and waddle down to their burrows. I can’t wait to watch Emmit’s face and see him really excited.”
To assist guests to prepare for their visit, a range of Social Stories and sensory features are available on the Nature Parks website and free KultureCity app, providing a preview of what visitors can expect at all of the locations. Find out more: www.penguins.org.au/accessibility