Hyland Hills’ Water World is a fun place for kids and adults alike and starting with the 2021 season, it will be even more inclusive. The water park, which offers 51 attractions over 70 acres, earned a Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) designation by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). The certification will help the water park create a more welcoming environment for guests with autism and other sensory sensitivities.
Joann Cortéz, Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District spokesperson, says they pursued certification after Water World staff noticed an increase in guest inquiries related to autism and other sensory sensitivities.
Working with their partners at IBCCES, Water World staff looked at all aspects of the guest experience to see what changes could be made. The adjustments included a faster entry process and a low sensory room, which provides a quiet and comfortable place for guests with sensory sensitivities to step away for a break from park activities.
In addition, sensory information will be provided before and during visits to prepare guests for their experience. Every attraction, for example, will have a sensory rating located in a Sensory Guide, which will be available for viewing and download on Water World’s website, as well as in paper form in the park. Attraction signage will indicate, on a scale of 1 to 10, important sensory stimulation factors. “They look at a wide variety of factors, including flashing lights and loud noises, as well as others like music or starting tones, smells, such as chlorine, dark or enclosed spaces, [and] animation effects,” says Cortéz.
The park’s existing Attraction Access Pass program will be updated and integrated into day-to-day activities. The Pass assists guests with disabilities by reducing waiting time in lines and providing help with carrying tubes to select attractions. “This is a program that we’ve been proud to offer for many years and we will be updating going into the 2021 season,” explains Cortéz.
There will also be easier access to food allergen information, which, Cortéz explains, is often a common area of interest for guests on the autism spectrum. “We’ve also looked at all of our operational and safety guidelines to be sure that everything, from a parent-separated child to our gate exit and entry procedures, are as positive as possible for our guests with sensory needs,” she says.
Staff at every level of Water World’s operation will complete training and certification so they are equipped with the tools to better communicate, engage, and assist guests with sensory sensitivities and their families.