It has been a while since I have been able to write an ‘Autism Review’ so I am pleased to be able to share the next blog in this series. This review focuses on how accessible Edinburgh Zoo was when I visited in September.
Before you visit:
Before you arrive there is a section on the website which goes through accessibility,
however unlike with other websites, Edinburgh Zoo titles their access page as ‘Visitors with Disabilities.’ Given that not everyone with access needs would consider themselves to have a disability, this should be updated to reflect this and ensure consistent language/term.
As with the majority of places, the access information focuses mainly on mobility information, but there is some information around sensory backpacks. This is a good addition to the access information as it includes:
• Accessible map,
• Ear defenders,
• Fidget Toys,
These are available at a cost of £15, which is refunded upon return. It is noted that these are only available for children, so this does exclude neurodivergent adults. The items included within these bags would also benefit adults as well.
It is also worth noting that carers can go in free, providing that the appropriate proof is provided such as proof of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Given that finding the additional paperwork and remembering to take that with you can act as an additional barrier, this is not an accessible process.
During your visit:
Upon arrival it was clear where we needed to go and the signage around where to wait was very clear. I visited during term time so the wait was not too long but this could be difficult during school holidays and weekends when the wait times are longer.
The welcome from staff was clear and information about access from the website was repeated to check if there was anything we needed. It was noted that as we were a group of adults only information about mobility was provided. Whilst this information was relevant to myself, I was disappointed to not have any mention about the sensory backpacks, purely because I am an adult.
The signage and map provided to navigate around the zoo were relatively easy to follow, although there were a couple of occasions where we ended up in a different place to where we had expected. One element that really made the visit were the volunteers who were around to answer questions and provide more information about the animals. They were all warm and friendly, didn’t force conversation if you just wanted to observe and it was thanks to one volunteer telling us to wait a little while that meant I was able to see a Giant Panda for the first time!
On the website there is an accessible route map that highlights the physical elements of the zoo that might be difficult in terms of access such as steps or steep slopes. This map would be further improved making visitors aware of the sensory factors that visitors need to be aware of. This would be a great addition to the sensory backpack. It would be good to include examples of areas which were less sensory demanding such as the Koalas where all visitors are asked to be quiet anyway.
It was difficult to find places to eat and other facilities within the zoo. Given the number of people that were visiting during that day, it would have been better to have more facilities available to avoid overly busy and noisy spaces. The one restaurant we did find did have a good range of food options available.
Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Edinburgh Zoo but I do think there are some areas where accessibility does need to be improved. It is clear that Edinburgh Zoo are trying to make adjustments for the access needs of autistic people, however this needs to be extended to include more than just a backpack and make sure adults are included in this as well.