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Visalia has been designated the first-ever Certified Autism Destination in the country, awarded by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). This follows a year-long effort by local tourism partners to better address the travel needs of autistic adventurers and their families in the destination. Recent studies conducted by Autism Travel show that 87% of parents with an autistic child do not travel, but 93% would be more likely to if autism-certified options were available. Now, travelers can enjoy inclusive and accessible travel to Visalia and the nearby Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.
Visit Visalia, the city’s destination marketing organization, launched the city-wide initiative just over a year ago to encourage its key tourism-focused partners to participate in the specialized autism training program and become Certified Autism Centers. The training is designed for front-facing hospitality and service staff to better recognize and respond to the needs of travelers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With 42% of the city’s key hotels and several family-friendly attractions certified, Visalia earned its designation as a Certified Autism Destination.
In addition to extensive training, Visalia’s tourism businesses are providing accommodations such as adding sensory guides, signage, introducing quiet spaces, low-sensory nights, and more. For example, the city is hosting three sensory-friendly holiday events this year and the ImagineU Children’s Museum created sensory-friendly nights once a month beginning in September and resuming in the new year.
“Visalia’s autism certification underscores California’s commitment to welcoming all dreamers and is an inspiration to other destinations seeking to be inclusive to travelers of all abilities,” said Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California. “Visalia is featured as an ‘Autism-Friendly California Adventure‘ in Visit California’s Road Trips guide. The city is a picturesque destination for families and the perfect base camp when experiencing the biggest trees on Earth in nearby Sequoia National Park.”
IBCCES is a global leader in online training and certification programs. IBCCES created AutismTravel.com to serve as a free resource for families looking for trained and certified travel and recreation options. Each organization listed on the site, like Visit Visalia, has met the Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) requirements.
“We’re so excited to announce Visalia, California as a Certified Autism Destination,” said Meredith Tekin, President of IBCCES. “This means that more visitors and travelers that are autistic or have sensory needs or sensitivities can feel comfortable knowing that when they visit Visalia, they have places to stay and play and there are resources for them to make sure that their experience is a great one.”
The city’s inclusive efforts extend beyond this designation to include the “Hidden Disabilities Sunflower” program, where Visit Visalia offers sunflower lanyards and bracelets complimentary to travelers, upon request. When worn, the sunflower serves as a visual cue to trained hospitality staff throughout Visalia that a traveler may need additional support during their visit.
Travelers can view the complete list of Visalia’s Certified Autism Centers and learn more about this initiative at https://www.visitvisalia.com/autism-travel-. For more information on inclusive and accessible travel to Visalia and the nearby Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, go to visitvisalia.com/accessible-travel.
December 17, 2022