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Pittsburgh Zoo dinosaurs to go silent for special needs event

September 10, 2018 GMT

Forget the roar of the mighty T-Rex.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium will offer a one-time, sensory-friendly experience to guests of all ages and abilities at the Dinosaur at the Zoo exhibit on Sunday, Aug. 26.

Designed for individuals with sensory sensitivities, the 18 animatronic dinosaurs on display will operate in a modified capacity -- without sounds or movements for two hours -- from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. that day.

Sensory sensitivity refers to how a person responds to sound, taste, touch, pain, smell and sight.

“The loud sounds and realistic movements at the Dinosaur exhibit can be overstimulating for those with sensory sensitivities,” said Allan Marshall, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Vice President of Internal Affairs. “We wanted to create an experience that would ensure all of our visitors the opportunity to have a fun and enjoyable experience at the zoo.”

Local Pittsburgh mom Christina Abernethy of Ohio Township plans to attend with her dino-loving autistic 7-year-old son, Ethan, so he can experience the dinosaurs with his family and not be scared or overstimulated, she said.

Abernethy called the zoo, inquiring about the possibility of the dinosaur exhibit going silent for sensory sensitive patrons, and found an enthusiastic response from Brittnay Balandis, director of marketing and public relations for the zoo.

“This (request from Abernethy) really got us into gear and was a zoo guest suggestion and we thought, ‘Let’s do something now before the dinosaurs are gone after Labor Day,’” Balandis said.

“He is going to be so excited,” Abernethy said. “I can say for the whole autism community (and for others with sensory sensitivities) that this inclusiveness touches a special place in my heart.”

Guests will enjoy close-up views of 18 life-size realistic dinosaurs in an immersive and lush outdoor environment.

A dinosaur dig area is available for hands-on fun and visitors will be able to touch replica artifacts such as large bones.

The zoo recently partnered with Kulture City, a non-profit based in Birmingham, Alabama, on a mission to create a world where all autistic individuals can be accepted, included and fulfill their potential, and is working to become a certified sensory inclusive zoo.

The certification process is two parts, requiring training for zoo staff and hosting a visit from Kulture City reps that provide a sensory audit of the zoo, making recommendations and providing signage for zoo guests.

“Our goal is to have the zoo certified (sensory inclusive) before the end of the year,” Marshall said.

The zoo plans to provide complimentary sensory bags, provided by Kulture City, on loan daily at the zoo gates for guests, containing sensory soothing items such as noise cancelling headphones, fidget spinners and weighted blankets, in the coming months.

Wheelchairs and mobility devices are welcomed, but note that the exhibit does include gravel paths throughout the experience.

Dinosaurs at the Zoo is an add-on experience, and no preregistration is required. Tickets are not included with general admission.

The exhibit will return to full sound operation at 5 p.m. on Aug. 26.