Friday, September 29, 2023

AZA takes action to help craft inclusive spaces for autistic audiences at zoos and aquariums

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is collaborating with Oregon State University’s STEM Research Center and Vanderbilt University’s Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) to support the “Modeling Zoos and Aquariums as Inclusive Communities of Science” or MoZAICS project.

“AZA’s Fifth Promise is a commitment to advance inclusion practices in the profession as part of its strategic plan. The funding from the National Science Foundation will help AZA deliver on that promise by creating research-backed tools for AZA zoos and aquariums, extending the impact of the MoZAICS project across our membership,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA.

Amy Rutherford, AZA’s director of professional development and education, will work with Kelly Riedinger, Ph.D., senior researcher at Oregon State University, and Lauren Weaver, MS, TRIAD director of community engagement, on the project. Blaire Donnelly-Mason, program manager for TRIAD, and Victoria Bonebrake, an Oregon State University STEM Research Center fellow, will also support the core team.

“This four-year project represents one of the first of its kind to support autistic audiences across the zoo and aquarium experience,” said Rutherford. “We are very thankful for this funding from the National Science Foundation to help us to expand and deepen inclusion efforts at our member facilities and across the science education field.”

MoZAICS focuses on developing an evidence-based framework of inclusive practices for zoos and aquariums to support science learning for autistic individuals, from a visit to the facility to formal programs to volunteering and employment opportunities. The project will also focus on building a community of practice of zoo and aquarium practitioners dedicated to the comprehensive inclusion of autistic individuals and building an overall strategy of inclusion across the AZA community.

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