A California town has been named the first-ever certified autism destination in the country. Visalia has been awarded by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
“We are truly honored to achieve Certified Destination Autism designation,” said John Oneto, Chairman of Visit Visalia’s Board of Directors. “Visalia has long prided itself on being a welcoming and inviting community and this was a collective effort by the tourism industry to make experiences sensory and remove barriers, ensuring that every visitor can feel at home. ease during and enjoy their stay by exploring our bustling downtown area. and nearby national parks.”
The designation came after a year-long effort by local tourism partners to better meet the travel needs of autistic adventurers and their families in the destination.
With 42% of Visalia’s major hotels and several family attractions certified, Visalia has earned its Certified Autism Destination designation. Tourism-focused partners have completed specialized autism training programs and become certified autism centers. The training is designed for reception and face-to-face service staff to better recognize and respond to the needs of travelers with an autism spectrum disorder.
In addition to training, tourist companies have sensory guides, signage, quiet spaces, low-sensory nights, etc. In the fall of 2022, the city hosted three sensory events at the ImagineU Children’s Museum, which created sensory nights once a month.
Visalia’s efforts also include the “Hidden Disabilities Sunflower” program. Visit Visalia offers free sunflower lanyards and bracelets to travelers upon request. When worn, the sunflower serves as a visual signal to trained Visalia hospitality staff that a traveler may need additional support during their visit.
Studies have shown that 87% of parents of an autistic child do not travel, but 93% would if there were options available. This is why this designation is so important. Visalia has received this designation from IBCCES. It is an accreditation board, certification body, and global leader in online training and certification programs. At present, it is the only CAD. Other communities such as Dubai; High Point, North Carolina; Palm Springs, California; and Toledo, Ohio are working on the designation. The only city certified for autism is Mesa, Arizona.
“We are thrilled to announce that Visalia, California is a Certified Autism Destination,” said IBCCES President Meredith Tekin. “This means more visitors and travelers with autism or sensory needs or sensitivities can feel comfortable knowing that when they visit Visalia they have places to stay and play and that there are resources to make sure their experience is great.”
You can get a list of Visalia’s Certified Autism Centers and learn more about the initiative through Visit Visalia and Inclusive and Accessible Trips to nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
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