There is so much written about accessibility but the focus is always on how places are accessible for people in a wheelchair or people who are deaf/blind. There needs to be more written about how to make places accessible for autistic people. I therefore wanted to set up this series of blogs to review the accessibility of different places for autistic people. The first place I am going to review is Yorkshire Wildlife Park.
Before you visit:
One thing that is really key for me is the information available on accessibility and the site itself to help me plan my day. On their website (www.yorkshirewildlifepark.com) you can find the accessibility information through the ‘Plan Your Visit’ tab. Whilst most of the information is linked to mobility accessibility there are some key points that are I do feel are relevant for autistic people:
- There are clear links to the pages detailing how to get to the park,
- There is reference to artificial lighting being used in ‘The Hive’ as you enter the Wildlife Park,
- There is information about the places to eat around the park and the different food on offer so you can plan where you are going to eat, especially if you experience sensory difficulties with certain foods,
- If you have an assistance dog then it explains which areas of the park they are able to go to.
I also downloaded the Yorkshire Wildlife Park App which contains an interactive map breaking down the animals, retail, food and drink, facilities, and entertainment. I loved the option of being able to plan your day in advance meaning you could create a checklist of everything you want to do on your visit and create a routine around it.
During your visit:
Upon arrival, I found the signage and information given in the car park quite confusing about where to park which did mean that the visit did start on a stressful note. The new entrance does mean that it takes longer to reach the main entrance to the park but once reached there were staff to direct you to where you needed to be.
I did find that the signage around the park was quite difficult to follow with some areas not having any signage so it was unclear which direction to go in, especially when I had read about a one-way system online. However, the signage around COVID rules was all very clearly presented.
Due to being a large outdoor space it means that there is lots of room to avoid being in crowded spaces so if needed there are spaces to go when you need to self-regulate. Some of the walkways do become narrow which means that there is the potential for crowding (on my visit it was the area around the Red Pandas), however the majority of spaces a big enough to have your own space.
There are plenty of places to get something to eat and drink, both as eat-in or takeaway. This means that if there are longer queues you are never far away from another café to try instead. Some of the cafes were quite busy on my visit so I only used the takeout services but I thought they were easy to find. I was in one longer queue when going to get an ice-cream but given the nice weather this was to be expected and the staff served everyone quickly.
I did want to make a note about the accessibility of the park in terms of the sensory environment:
· Sound – the park itself is located within a quiet area so there are limited amounts of noise. I did notice a train going by but the main sound that could cause sensory overload are the automated boxes around the park that make announcements about social distancing. These sudden announcements did cause me distress on the day.
· Light – I noticed no issues in terms of bright light, due to the majority of the park being outside.
· Smell – there are some strong smells around the park which related to both the animals and the food stalls. These were manageable depending on how close you were to the location of the smell.
One of my special interests is cats so I absolutely loved the opportunity to see the big cats at the park, including Lions, Tigers and Leopards. I have always loved animals so Yorkshire Wildlife Park is the perfect place for me to engage in a special interest and do something for me.
Overall, I was really impressed with the accessibility of Yorkshire Wildlife Park for autistic people. There are just a few areas where I think accessibility could be easily adapted so that the park is accessible for all.