A Zoo for Everyone

Zoo News Feature

April 01, 2021

Creating an inclusive place for all is an ongoing process. Discover the accessibility and inclusion initiatives Lincoln Park Zoo has recently implemented, as well as what is on the horizon for inclusivity at the zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo is committed to creating an environment that is inclusive and welcoming to all. Accessibility and inclusion initiatives promote and help achieve full, just, and integrated access to all zoo experiences. From installing automatic doors across grounds to fully captioning digital offerings, Lincoln Park Zoo continues to remove barriers to connecting with the zoo. Accessibility at the zoo is an ongoing process—always growing and adapting. The zoo has recently implemented various accessibility initiatives and has plans on the horizon to further inclusivity at the zoo.

Newly Automated

With Lincoln Park Zoo being 152 years old, many of the buildings on grounds are historic in nature. After conducting a series of access audits with people who identify with disability communities, the zoo identified opportunities to increase accessibility across grounds. Thanks to a generous grant from Bank of America, the zoo was able to install automatic doors at Park Place Café, Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House, Helen Brach Primate House, and the Member Center at Searle Visitor Center, making these important spaces accessible to all visitors. The zoo hopes to finish installing automatic doors at other buildings soon.

Plentiful Programming

Inclusive programming and offerings at the zoo ensure that everyone has the ability to connect with nature. One such offering is a social narrative, a learning tool that presents a skill or experience in sequential order to teach and support children with cognitive or sensory processing disorders. Currently, Lincoln Park Zoo has a social narrative about visiting the zoo during COVID-19. A robot at the zoo? It’s true! The zoo offers tours conducted with a telepresence robot, named Keo, for guests unable to visit the zoo due to health concerns or limited mobility. For guests who are blind or have low vision, sensory tours and description tours with a Lincoln Park Zoo staff member are also available. From DreamNight, an annual event for families impacted by critical illness, to The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) job shadowing, Lincoln Park Zoo hosted and participated in various community programs this past year. By partnering with MOPD, zoo staff gave students insight and first-hand experience to a wide range of careers at the zoo. Due to the ongoing pandemic, DreamNight transformed into DayDream and was held virtually. Other programming included phone and Zoom calls with senior communities and a three-hour virtual program for youth who are blind or have low vision. During on-grounds ZooLights, a Virtual ZooLights was available for children impacted by cancer and adults living with dementia. Recently, Lincoln Park Zoo has significantly increased its direct work with accessibility organizations.

Adapting with the Times

With the global pandemic has come increased safety protocols at the zoo, such as facial coverings for those above the age of 2 who are medically able. To communicate with guests who are Deaf or hard of hearing while adhering to safety recommendations, Lincoln Park Zoo staff members wear clear masks to allow for lipreading.

During its temporary winter ”hibernation” from January–March, the zoo launched a new YouTube web series, Stay Tuned to the Zoo (see page 4), to keep animal lovers from all over the world connected to the zoo. All episodes from both seasons were fully captioned and auto-translation was available in more than 50 languages.

A Job for All

Accessibility at the zoo requires participation from all staff members, from Communications to Animal Care. “Ensuring the zoo is a welcoming place for all individuals is a shared responsibility across the whole zoo,” says Hart Prins Fund Accessibility & Inclusion Manager Bill Green. “It’s truly a team effort.” In 2020, Lincoln Park Zoo launched a four-part accessibility and inclusion training program for staff and volunteers. The required training was available in both English and Spanish and illustrated what accessibility at the zoo looks like, how staff and volunteers can work together to increase it, and why the zoo values it.

An Ongoing Process Accessibility and inclusion are long-term, everchanging processes that Lincoln Park Zoo is fully committed to. Looking toward the future, the zoo hopes to integrate accessibility into all zoo experiences. On the horizon, Pepper Family Wildlife Center is slated to open in fall 2021. This historic building was redesigned with accessibility in mind from the very beginning of its reenvisioning. “Accessibility at the zoo is an ongoing process that Lincoln Park Zoo is consistently working toward,” says Green. “Just like the zoo’s tagline—For Wildlife. For All.— we will continue to work together to create a place where all individuals have the ability to connect with wildlife.” To learn more about the zoo’s accessibility and inclusion initiatives, go to lpzoo.org/accessibility. For questions or assistance planning your visit, email access@lpzoo.org.