WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) – Families of people with autism can know ahead of time if an attraction may trigger a sensory response at the new Peppa Pig Theme Park in Winter Haven.
The Peppa Pig Theme Park and the adjacent LEGOLAND Florida Resort will be “Certified Autism Centers” by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) when the Peppa Pig park opens in February.
Certification requires at least 80% of staff to be trained in autism sensitivity and awareness.
“So the staff goes through rigorous training that teaches them how to approach situations, how to solve potential problems and how to really just be aware, to be approachable to families in need,” said Kelly Hornick, head of marketing & communications at Peppa Pig Theme Park.
There will also be an online and in-park “sensory guide” which will list every attraction by which of the five senses it impacts.
“For some, it may be audio triggers of things that are loud or noisy can be scary. Or things that are bright for others and flashing lights may affect visual triggers,” said Hornick.
“I wish there was a group like IBCCES when I was growing up to say the least,” said Kerry Magro, who was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old. “I dealt with a wide range of difficulties with bright lights, loud noises.”
Magro is now on the board of directors for IBCCES and the National Autism Association.
With autism diagnoses on the rise, Magro says, it is important businesses are prioritizing inclusivity.
“It’s not only the right thing to do but it makes good business sense. It gets more people in our community to actually come out to your attractions,” he said.
“Some people can’t walk, some people can’t talk, so to have an activity that they can do and can participate like the rest of us is very meaningful,” said Nicole Rice, director of health care services and nursing at Sunrise Community in Bartow.
Sunrise Community is a residential facility for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
“A favorite spot that we like to go to is SeaWorld. We do that because they’re very autism-friendly,” said Rice.
SeaWorld Orlando is also an IBBCES Certified Autism Center.
“We know that the staff is trained there to be autism-friendly. So should an individual have a moment in crisis, we feel less on the spot and more helped which is a critical thing for us,” said Rice.
Two Polk County theme parks, Peppa Pig and LEGOLAND will join SeaWorld as Certified Autism Centers.
“That would be wonderful,” said Maria Hansen, an adult with autism who uses a wheelchair.
She wants to be able to do more at theme parks.
“Do they have rides for people that can’t stand up because I can’t stand up?” she asked.
Merlin Entertainments, the owner of the Peppa Pig Theme Park and LEGOLAND Florida Resort, unveiled the new Peppa Pig’s Balloon Ride wheelchair-accessible attraction vehicle at the IAAPA Expo in Orlando Tuesday.
Guests can access the ride vehicle without transferring out of their wheelchair.
Peppa Pig’s Muddy Puddles Splash Pad is also wheelchair-accessible.
“The ground will be specially graded for wheelchair use and several heights of water play elements are being choreographed for the enjoyment of all guests and all abilities. This includes a tunnel of water hoops that can be navigated in a wheelchair and additional interactive splash surprises at varying height levels,” the press release reads.
In addition to a sensory guide, an accessibility guide is also being developed for the park.
The Peppa Pig Theme Park is set to open on Feb. 24, 2022, in Winter Haven.