A city in California has been designated as the first-ever Certified Autism Destination in the country. Visalia was awarded by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
“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.”
The designation came after a year-long effort by local tourism partners to better address the travel needs of autistic adventurers and their families in the destination.
With 42 percent of Visalia’s key hotels and several family-friendly attractions certified, Visalia earned its designation as a Certified Autism Destination. Tourism-focused partners went through specialized autism training programs and became Certified Autism Centers. The training is designed for front-facing hospitality and service staff to better recognize and respond to the needs of travelers with an autism spectrum disorder.
In addition to the training, tourism businesses have sensory guides, signage, quiet spaces, low-sensory nights, and more. In the fall of 2022, the city hosted three sensory-friendly events at the ImagineU Children’s Museum, which created sensory-friendly nights once a month.
Visalia’s efforts also include the “Hidden Disabilities Sunflower” program. Visit Visalia offers complimentary sunflower lanyards and bracelets to travelers, upon request. When worn, the sunflower serves as a visual cue to trained hospitality staff throughout Visalia that a traveler may need additional support during their visit.
Studies have shown that 87 percent of parents with an autistic child do not travel, but 93 percent would if there were options available. That’s why this designation is so important. Visalia was awarded this designation by IBCCES. It’s a credentialing board, certifying body, and a global leader in online training and certification programs. Right now, it’s the only CAD. Other communities such as Dubai; High Point, North Carolina; Palm Springs, California; and Toledo, Ohio, are working toward the designation. The only Autism Certified City is Mesa, Arizona.
“We’re so excited to announce Visalia, California, as a Certified Autism Destination,” said Meredith Tekin, President of IBCCES. “ 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.”
You can get a list of Visalia’s Certified Autism Centers and learn more about the initiative through Visit Visalia and inclusive and accessible travel to nearby Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.