Our commitment to accessibility and inclusion
A message from Park Board Commissioner Jessie K. Baines Jr.
We’ve all played “rock, paper, scissors,” but have you ever stood on the dry side of an aquarium exhibit and played it with a scuba diver through the glass?
That was one of the many, wonderful experiences we observed during a special event Metro Parks Tacoma and Tacoma Public Schools co-hosted at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in late March. Called “Under the Sea,” the event provided an inclusive experience just for kids with disabilities and their families. More than 800 people attended and enjoyed a safe space for exploration that was free from judgment and worries that often add stress to an outing for these families.
This was our second year hosting an event for kids with disabilities. Last year, we converted STAR Center into a “Winter Wonderland.”
This time, our experienced Metro Parks staff, along with dozens of kindhearted and generous volunteers, put together an evening full of wonder and fun as our guests connected with animals and learned about the natural world. Families roamed the zoo, exploring the new Pacific Seas Aquarium, meeting ambassador animals up close, and more.
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium recently earned a designation as a “sensory inclusive” site, and this event provided an opportunity for our staff to use their training in this area. The designation comes from KultureCity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing awareness, acceptance and inclusion for people with special needs. The group provides training on how to recognize and approach guests who might be struggling with noise and crowds, setting up clearly marked “quiet zones” and offering helpful tools, such as Sensory Bags, to guests who may need them in order to feel more comfortable during their zoo visit.
I’m proud to say that Point Defiance Zoo and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park are the only zoos in Washington certified by KultureCity.
I’m also proud and inspired by the work of our Specialized Recreation and Adaptive Recreation program team.
Specialized Recreation provides leisure opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities. In partnership with the Special Olympics, Metro Parks offers athletics, social, and creative opportunities for all ages. Our staff help to build and strengthen friendships while also benefiting the mental, emotional and physical well-being of participants.
On May 18, our Specialized Recreation division will host the 5th annual Cinderella Ball at the Tacoma Yacht Club. This all-ages formal event includes dancing, singing, complimentary hair and makeup styling and more – and it’s sure to create special memories for our guests.
Our Adaptive Recreation program is tailored toward individuals with physical disabilities. Program leaders often say there is no busy season in adaptive recreation because it’s always busy; each new season brings more sports for people of all abilities to learn how to work together.
And one program within that group provides sports and recreational opportunities to ill, injured or wounded soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. For some, finding a support system and a healthy dose of competition has made all the difference. After the trauma one soldier endured during his service, this healthy outlet of recreation became his lifeline. “You’ve actually saved my life,” he told us.
From wheelchair basketball and goalball to personalized interests such as archery or sitting volleyball, these inclusive opportunities remove limitations of access or ability. Relationships through recreation – we create strong connections.
Jessie K. Baines Jr. is serving his first term as an elected member of the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners.