Visitors enjoying Visalia, California. (photo courtesy of Visit Visalia)
The city of Visalia in Central California announced that it has become the first-ever certified Autism Destination in the U.S.
The award by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) 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 percent of parents with an autistic child do not travel, but 93 percent would be more likely to if autism certified options were available. This means travelers can enjoy inclusive and accessible travel to Visalia and the nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
“We are truly honored to obtain the Certified Autism Destination designation,” said John Oneto, board chair of Visit Visalia. “Visalia has long-prided itself in being a welcoming and inviting community and this was a collective effort by the tourism industry to make experiences sensory-friendly and remove barriers, ensuring every visitor can feel comfortable during and enjoy their stay as they explore our vibrant downtown and nearby national parks.”
Forty-two percent of key hotels and several family-friendly attractions in the city have been certified. Hotel accommodations now include sensory guides, signage, the introduction of quiet spaces, low-sensory nights, and more. Visalia is also hosting three sensory-friendly holiday events this year. The ImagineU Children’s Museum created sensory-friendly nights once a month beginning in September, resuming in 2023.
“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.”
Meredith Tekin, President of IBCCES said in a statement “We’re so excited to announce Visalia, California as a Certified Autism Destination. 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.”
In addition, the city’s Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program offers complimentary sunflower lanyards and bracelets to travelers on request, serving as a visual cue to trained hospitality staff that a visitor may need additional support during their visit.
Travelers can view the complete list of Visalia’s Certified Autism Centers at Visitvisalia.com/autism-travel. Information on inclusive and accessible travel to Visalia and nearby national parks can also be found at Visitvisalia.com/accessible-travel.
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