Mark A. Trieglaff
Zoos and aquariums are popular sources of education and recreation for people of all ages. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA Link) reported that its members had 134 million visitors in 1998. This total is greater than the attendance at all professional baseball, basketball and football games combined.
While zoos and aquariums are sources of enjoyment for many people, could a visit to the zoo be difficult for some individuals? Maybe even impossible? Can a person with a disability easily visit a zoo or aquarium? How can they know?
Many accessibility laws have helped increase accessibility at certain zoos and aquariums. Laws such as the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in 1978, prohibit any federal agency or agencies receiving federal funding from discriminating against or excluding people with disabilities from entering these facilities or participating in programming. Thus, any zoo or aquarium receiving federal funds was required to meet accessibility standards as set by these laws.
Accessibility to both zoos and aquariums has increased even more, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights law for people with disabilities. Its basic intent is to eliminate discrimination against a person with a disability. One of the specific provisions of the ADA is to ensure that public accommodations are accessible. Zoos are listed as one example of accommodations required to be accessible. As a result, a person with a disability should find a zoo or aquarium accessible or in the process of removing barriers. For many facilities, this will be a long process because of the age of their facilities and the cost to remove barriers. It is important to preplan your visit. The extent of accessibility may help make or break your visit. To avoid potential problems when planning a visit to the zoo, take some time to gather information before you go. Some initial steps and ideas follow.