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New 'Zoo for All' Program Focuses on Inclusion

Woodland Park Zoo unveils welcoming features for families with special needs

Published on: June 25, 2018

Zoo for All credit Ryan Hawk
Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Let’s face it, as much as kids love the zoo, it can be overwhelming at times. And the indoor Zoomazium? Well, one parent’s rainy-day lifesaver is another parent’s over-stimulation nightmare. For families dealing with sensory or mobility issues, the challenges of a day at the zoo are even greater.

Woodland Park Zoo has recognized these challenges and is working to make a trip to the zoo accessible and enjoyable for more kinds of families.

On Thursday, July 5, the zoo is debuting the changes it has made in a day-long celebration of inclusion, and all are welcome. Bring your own lunch or buy snacks at the food court to join a community picnic lunch on the zoo’s North Meadow. Throughout the day, visit information booths for The Arc of King County, Special Olympics USA Games, Northwest Center and other nonprofit partners. The zoo's new open-late program called Evening Zoo also takes place on July 5, so the zoo will remain open past normal closing hours, until 8:30 p.m.

New accessibility features

So what are the changes the zoo is celebrating, exactly? Woodland Park Zoo has made straightforward ADA improvements such as adding accessible parking spaces, but they’ve made more substantial changes, too. Navigating the zoo will be easier with a new zoo map that identifies quieter and less crowded locations. Whether you want to avoid crowds as much as possible, or just want to wander into a quieter zone to help your young child fall asleep in the stroller, every parent will benefit from being able to plan a route through the zoo with these spots in mind.

Zoomazium at Woodland Park Zoo
Zoomazium play area at Woodland Park Zoo. Credit: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

For many kids, the Zoomazium indoor play area is a bigger draw than all the animals at the zoo, but the same elements that made it fun for some children — an area for active, sensory-rich and noisy play — turned it into a very challenging, or even impossible environment for some families. Now the Zoomazium’s nature play space has been reconfigured to make it more suitable for children with autism and other sensory issues.

As a parent of neurotypical children who could never handle more than a few minutes in the Zoomazium, I can imagine what a difference it will make to families with special needs to finally be able to enjoy this popular spot. 

Papu owl chick
Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ

New residents

While the quiet-side map and Zoomazium improvements might make the biggest difference to the most people, the opening of the long-awaited Seattle Sensory Garden is also welcome. This addition to the zoo’s Rose Garden includes touch-and-explore elements like deep-toned wind chimes, temple bells and wooden noisemakers called guiros. The Sensory Garden has an accessible paved pathway, sensory-friendly carpeting and raised beds to make getting a closer look at the plants easy. Watch for an opening celebration to happen this summer.

In addition to the welcome sensory-friendly features being unveiled at the zoo, there are also a number of new critters calling the zoo home. These animals definitely warrant a visit:

  • Red panda twins were just born at the zoo June 19
  • Papú, a burrowing owl chick, is a new animal ambassador-in-training
  • A young mountain goat named Daisy is on view on the Northern Trail area
  • New rhinos have joined the zoo
  • There's a baby giraffe, growing fast!

Visiting all these new zoo residents, attending the Zoo for All celebration July 5 and all Evening Zoo open-late evenings are included with paid zoo admission or membership.

If you go...

When: The Zoo for All celebration takes place Thursday, July 5, 9:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m. The zoo's regular summer hours are 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m. daily. Evening Zoo events take place select dates this summer: July 5, 19 and 26; and Aug. 1.

Where: Woodland Park Zoo is located at 5500 Phinney Ave. N. in Seattle

Cost: The Zoo for All celebration and Evening Zoo events are included with regular admission or membership. Summer admission fees are are $20.95/adult, $18.95/senior, $12.95/child ages 3–12, ages 2 and under free.

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