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Shedd Aquarium introduces app updates, ‘Calm Waters’ for guests with autism

Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, has introduced updates to its sensory-friendly mobile app, and added additional "Calm Water" events for guests with disabilities. | Photo via Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium announced Wednesday that it is taking strides to be more accommodating to people with autism and sensory-processing challenges by updating its a mobile app, introducing a new quiet space and hosting special hours for guests with disabilities.

Shedd’s Sensory-Friendly app was created in 2016 for patrons who may need additional information to prepare before a visit. The app, which is free on iTunes and Google Play, now offers videos explaining each exhibit, maps, notes on the temperature and how loud the aquarium is and improved communication tools. Guests can also play games and create personalized schedules ahead of their next visit. All functions in the app can be translated into Spanish — another new feature Shedd hopes will improve accessibility.

Also new to Shedd Aquarium is a designated quiet room. The space, which can be found in the Northern Trust Suite near the facility’s main foyer, can be used to calm people down if they’ve been overwhelmed at any of the aquarium’s eight current exhibits. The quiet room is available during regular hours and is outfitted with adjustable lighting, a weighted lap pad and sound-reducing headphones. It also has a prayer rug and outlets to charge electronic devices.

The Shedd Aquarium has other policies and amenities to make visits welcoming to guests who are blind, deaf or use wheelchairs. They include accessible seating and restrooms, interactive models that talk and free services for American Sign Language interpreters and personal care attendants. The aquarium also has sound-reducing headphones at its information desk, an accessible parking lot and paper straws upon request.

Guests who may require additional accommodations are invited to participate in exclusive hours during an event called “Calm Waters.” According to Shedd’s website, “modifications for this event will include limited capacity and streamlined entry with advance registration.” The next upcoming Calm Waters days are Sunday from 8 to 10 a.m. and May 6 between 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. The cost of admission is $24.95 for non-members.

Hours of operation vary at Shedd Aquarium depending on the season. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., on weekends until June 2019.