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Woodland Park Zoo transforms for a day to make kids with special needs feel welcome

In honor of the Special Olympics, the Woodland Park Zoo, with the help of local nonprofits, hosted “Zoo for All” on Thursday, July 5, 2018, to help people with disabilities feel included. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE -- The Woodland Park Zoo has always been a magical place for both locals and travelers alike, and now, it’s a place where people with special needs can feel welcome.

In honor of the Special Olympics, the Woodland Park Zoo, with the help of local nonprofits, hosted “Zoo for All” on Thursday to help people with disabilities feel included.

“We've changed the museum for the day and we've created things to make it a little less intense for those who are here with us,” said Lauri Hennessey, Vice President of Engagement for Woodland Park Zoo.

That means you can pick up a pair of noise-canceling headphones or participate in a calming activity. It's all for children with autism or sensory disorders. The zoo has even created a special map with quite areas for families.

“As a parent of a child with Downs, you don't always expect them to be able to live their dreams,” said Seth Zeichner, who’s a volunteer with the zoo. “To have him here, however brief it may be, is just amazing for him and for us.”

Jonah is just one of many kids who participated in the Zoo’s special day. Experts say Washington state is ahead of the curve when it comes to including people with special needs.

“The most important thing is just getting the message out there and that this should just be normal life,” said Mary Sheely of the Northwest Center.

“I would like to see a day where anyone who comes to the zoo feels like it's just as wonderful and magical of an experience for them as it is for everyone else,” Hennessey added.

A second “Zoo for All” will take place in August honoring veterans and active military members.

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