How a Central California Town Added Autism Accessibility to Its Meeting Amenity List

A neon sign and marquee for the Visalia Theater

An important, often overlooked, aspect of meeting planning is accommodating those who have accessibility needs that are not detectable at first glance. Recently, the city of Visalia, California, announced it is a Certified Autism DestinationTM , a welcome addition that will help planners meet those hidden needs.

The journey to certification with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) began with an employee of Visit Visalia who has a child with autism. Her experience opened the eyes of others to the importance of extending a wider welcome to all.

In the Business of Making Memories

“She was reflecting on the challenges their family faced when attempting to travel together,” said Suzanne Bianco, tourism and marketing director of Visit Visalia. “Usually, one parent would take some of the children on while the other parent stayed home. As a Destination Marketing Organization, we are in the business of making family travel memories and it seemed like a disconnect that we weren’t addressing the needs of these families to enable them to travel together.”

In a recent study done by Autism Travel, 87% of parents with an autistic child do not travel, but 93% stated they would if autism-certified options were available. According to Visit Visalia, 1 in 6 people have a sensory need. Not to mention, 32 million trips are taken by travelers who have special needs every year. That includes business and convention travelers.

Read More5 Tips for Improving Accessibility for Meetings

Visit Visalia aims to provide the necessary tools to event planner and attendees to their time in Visalia is easy and stress free.

“One tool is a microsite that we create for each convention so that attendees can find all of the destination information in one place,” said Bianco, “This includes information about our designation as a Certified Autism Destination. It has links to our accessible travel page that highlights the hotels and attractions that are Certified Autism Centers. That might help attendees to make a hotel choice that best suits their needs.”

Certified Autism Centers

Visalia is home to six hotels that contain Certified Autism Centers. This includes Wyndham Visalia, which holds 22,000 sq. ft. of event space, 256 guest rooms and 14 event rooms. Wyndham Visalia is just 38 miles from the nearest airport, Fresno (FAT).

Another location to keep in mind is Visalia Convention Center, which contains 114,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 28 meeting rooms, and 30,000 sq. ft of exhibit space. Attached to the Visalia Convention Center is Visalia Marriott Hotel, which offers 148,692 sq. ft. of meeting space, 42 event rooms and 16 breakout rooms. Also attached to Visalia Convention Center is Comfort Inn Downtown. Both hotels are Certified Autism Centers.

Lastly, the Lamp Liter Inn, offers 7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and the Hampton Inn Visalia has 1,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Both hotels offer CAC (Certified Autism Center) services for attendees.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program allows attendees to self-identify as having an invisible disability so that location staff members can be discreetly informed if an individual requires special accommodations. The sunflower pin, lanyard or bracelet is provided at no charge. “Planners could ask attendees to reach out during the planning phase to let them know if any special accommodations are needed,” said Bianco.

Read MorePlan a Disability-friendly Event with this Local Accessibility Guide

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