Accessibility For All: New initiative helps families with special needs visit local destinations

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A new initiative, launched in early April, is empowering parents who have kids with special needs to navigate some local destinations a little easier.

“Sometimes we, as a family, just want to go out and have a family dinner and just be a family,” says Sharol Signorelli, noting it can be difficult to go to restaurants and museums with her 14-year-old son, Luca, who is legally blind and uses a wheelchair.  “Everybody just wants to belong.  Everyone just wants to participate.”

That’s why a new initative, organized by The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, aimed ar serving guests with special needs, means so much. 

“We’ve gathered together eleven visitor serving institutions in Fairfield County,” explains Director of Education and Volunteers, Tom Naiman. 

The initative – called Accessibility for All – includes destinations such as Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and Stepping Stones Museum for Children

“We heard a lot of stories about people calling switchboards and being passed from person to person,” says Naiman. 

So, now, there will be an Accessibility Coordinator, always available to answer questions.  Another key component brings information to one place. 

“We thought, why not create a web portal where all eleven institutions put the information that special needs guests need in a similar format,” says Naiman.

Since it’s launch in early April, the initiative has received a big reaction. 

“It’s long overdue and I think that’s why there’s been such a powerful response,” says Naiman.  “We’re excited because we want a visit to the aquarium to be a transformative, meaningful experience for every single one of our guests.”

Signorelli celebrates her son’s life everyday. 

“It means a lot to me because I want to teach him – I want him to know – all the wonderful things the world has to offer,” says this Ridegfield mom of three who started her own web site, called Fun Abilities, a search service that connects those with special needs to businesses.  She considers Accessibility for All to be tremendous progress:  “I celebrate what they’re doing.  I can’t wait to share it with the world and I think this is the new gold standard.”

Organizers are already thinking about expanding this idea – including more destinations – and hopefully inspiring other communities to create similar initiatives.

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