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How Cincinnati Zoo’s calming room helps visitors with sensory sensitivities

Posted at 2:15 PM, Jan 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-17 14:15:24-05

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Zoo employees want everyone to be able to enjoy a day at the zoo.

The zoo’s calming room, which opened this week, provides a quiet place for people with sensory sensitivities and developmental disabilities.

Rhiannon Hoeweler, vice president of Visitor Experience, Strategy, and FUN, said families can use the room for up to 30 minutes if someone needs a sensory break during their visit.

“We have some pretty loud animals, we have lots of people a lot of the time, some pretty amazing smells here as well,” Hoeweler said. “So sometimes people get a little overwhelmed, and so this is just a place for them to come to get a little peace and quiet and calm.”

The zoo collaborated with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati to furnish the room with vibrating rocking chairs, crash pads and tents.

Valerie Miller, an occupational therapist at the University of Cincinnati, said tools like a bubble wall and a projector can be visually calming for people who are overstimulated.

A tent in the corner provides privacy, and an activity wall can help visitors recenter, Miller said.

The calming room, which is located in the Vine Street Village area, is accessible to one family at a time. Visitors can access the calming room by visiting the Welcome Center or talking to an employee. Plans for a second calming room in the Safari area are in the works.

Cincinnati Zoo staff members received training from Dr. Jen Smith of Children's Hospital on welcoming and including visitors with developmental disabilities, according to Communications Director Michelle Curley. These employees have “Zoo Access for All” on their name badges.

Click here for more information on what the zoo offers.