St. Louis Aquarium to be certified for people with sensory needs

ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station will introduce people of all ages to the world of wonder under the water and it wants to make sure that people of all challenges and abilities can enjoy it, too, including individuals with autism, dementia, PTSD, and similar conditions.

"It kind of started with autism and then as we did more research and really started talking to people, we realize that this applies to those that suffer from PTSD even Alzheimer’s patients," said Erin Clark, the Director of Animal Projects for the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. "We want the aquarium to be a family-friendly facility for everybody so we want to make sure we`re accessible to as many people as possible."

The aquarium will become accredited for sensory inclusion with the help of KultureCity, a non-profit organization dedicated to rethinking accessibility. Clark said part of that means behavioral therapists will train every employee one-on-one to recognize sensory issues and learn the best way to respond.

"The St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station will be the first aquarium in the process of being built that will be designed with sensory inclusion in mind," said Dr. Julian Maha, founder of KultureCity.

A big barrier for people with sensory needs is a sensitivity to overstimulation and noise, which is an enormous part of the environment in a public aquarium.

In addition to the special training, there will be a purpose-built sensory room for individuals and families who may need a quieter environment to escape to, complete with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, soothing lighting and weighted lap pads.

The $45 million aquarium is expected to open to the public in summer 2019.