The Louisville Zoo teamed up with the national nonprofit KultureCity to make its facility and programming more welcoming for people with sensory sensitivities or challenges. 

As a part of becoming “KultureCity Sensory Inclusive” certified, which the zoo was awarded on May 2, staff went through training, led by medical professionals, to help them better identify guests who might need sensory support and what to do when someone experiences a sensory overload. 

Additionally, there will be on-site “sensory bags,” stocked with items like noise-canceling headphones, verbal cue cards, fidget tools and weighted lap pads. The zoo has also established “quiet zones” for anyone overwhelmed by their surroundings, according to a news release. The zones are near Snow Leopard Pass, Gorilla Forest, the Etscorn Garden and behind the MetaZoo lake area.

“Our dedicated team is determined to make the Louisville Zoo the safest, most inclusive, most engaging place for all of our guests to enjoy and learn about the amazing animals that share our wonderful world,” director Dan Maloney said in the release. “This certification is an important step in our recognition of our neurodiverse visitors as we create a great experience for everyone.”

Noah Barnes, an educator who runs the camp programs at the zoo, was excited for the sensory inclusive initiative because it would help more guests “enjoy themselves [at the zoo] in a way that they might not have been able to previously.”

He said they’re already implementing mitigation efforts they learned in the training in the zoo’s summer camp, and it’s helping them create a better experience for kids with diverse sensory and support needs.

“We’re more aware of their needs, and… we’re able to recognize when they’re having sensory overload, and then we also know how to get them out of that situation and bring them back to a place of comfort and fun, which is what summer camp is all about,” Barnes told WFPL News.

Making events, places and experiences sensory friendly can meet the needs of people on the autism spectrum, those with Parkinson’s disease, PTSD and other sensory sensitivities, according to the KultureCity website

“The zoo is a place for every single person and every single person should feel as though they belong here,” Barnes added. “And I think that this initiative has done a wonderful job of helping to broaden our scope, and allow more people to enjoy the zoo.”

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.