Research on Zoo Accessibility
How these facilities are doing, was part of a research project conducted in 1995. Members of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association were surveyed about their accessibility. To participate in the survey, the members had to be in good standing, open to the public and located in the U.S. Of the 151 members that met this criteria, 98 or 65% returned their survey.
The findings provided mixed results. The data indicated a high level of accessibility of adaptive programming for people with disabilities. (See Table 1) Sixty-five percent of the respondents have provided some sort of adaptation or modification of programs to make them more suitable to their participants with disabilities.
Programs designed for people with disabilities or the elderly, had a much lower positive response. Thirty-four percent of the respondents had developed programming for people with disabilities. While a slightly higher percentage, 40% said, they had developed specific programming for the elderly.
The use of auxiliary aids to assist a visitor with a disability had a mixed response rate. (See Table 2) The use of ramps (87%), wheelchairs (80%) and signage (54%) were the highest aids listed. The remaining auxiliary aids listed were 23% or lower.
Staff training concerning assisting a person with a disability was provided by less than a third (31%) of the respondents. Of the facilities that did offer the training, only 26% required their full-time staff to attend and only 14% required the seasonal staff to attend. In addition, when the training was offered, less than 25% dealt with how to assist a specific disability.
Related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a high rate of facilities indicated that they had attended a seminar, workshop, or conference session (73%). The selection of a key staff person to disseminate this information and be responsible for compliance to ADA standards was also high (70%).
The use of or development of an advisory group had a positive response rate of only 33%. Facilities that used resource groups or individuals to assist with accessibility seem to have a higher level of ADA compliance and overall accessibility than facilities that did not have this assistance (Lorenzini, 1992; Ricciari, 1992; Weinstein, 1992).
Questions concerning the development of a barrier removal plan received a positive response of only 44%. (See Table 3) Physical barriers were listed by the greatest majority of respondents (94%), followed by public amenities, such as restrooms and parking spaces (38%), signage (18%), exhibits (9%), public telephones being too high (6%), and cue lines too long (3%).
A major problem with the lack of compliance and access is the threat of lawsuits against zoo and aquarium facilities. With only two out of every five of the respondents having developed a barrier removal plan, this puts the remaining facilities in violation and thus in position to be fined by the Department of Justice and/or sued by individuals with disabilities, such as has been experienced by other public accommodations (Celis III, 1993; Erlich, 1993; McCormick, 1993; McGovern, 1994; Shoop, 1994; Sneiderman, 1993; Spayd, 1994; Stussman, 1990; Stussman, 1993; 'U.S. Urged to Prod Theaters', 1993).
While zoos and aquariums are required by law to become more accessible, the 1995 survey indicates that more work needs to be done. A five year follow up survey is planned for 2000 to indicate if any major changes have occurred since 1995.
Zoos and aquariums have been and will continue to be popular sources of recreation. Issues concerning accessibility of these institutions have kept people with disabilities from having the freedom to choose a zoo or aquarium as a recreational source. The passage of laws, such as the ADA, will open up opportunities for people to visit and enjoy a zoo or aquarium. Accessibility barriers throughout the institutions must be removed. The decision to visit will then be based, not on an accessibility barrier, but on their own personal freedom to choose their recreation activity.