City of Mesa Parks and RecreationMesa, Ariz.
Category: Accessibility

Mesa, Ariz. is home to an estimated 39,000 residents with special needs — approximately 9,400 of them children. In 2019, the city’s Parks, Recreation & Community Facilities (PRCF) became the world’s first municipal parks department to be designated a Certified Autism Center.

PRCF partnered with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to attain this status.

Thorough training

This required an intensive process.

First, staff at all nine Mesa aquatics centers — from cashiers to lifeguards to pool managers — received awareness and sensitivity training to acquire the knowledge, skills, temperament and expertise to cater to guests with special needs. Training focused on an autism overview, sensory awareness, emotional awareness, motor skills, social skills, communication, environment and program development.

Each employee had to pass a written exam, and staffers who interact with customers will participate in ongoing training.

An on-site audit conducted by IBCCES included Mesa’s largest aquatics venue: Skyline Aquatic Center. The review concluded with suggested modifications and the development of sensory guides, which help families prepare for facility visits.

Skyline Aquatic Center’s Sensory Guide details the sites’ features and attractions and includes scores to indicate the impact on each of the five senses. Sensory level 1 indicates low stimulation, while a 10 means high stimulation. Notes advise visitors if they might be splashed in a particular area, or if an area is particularly noisy.

Sensory bins contain sensory fidget toys, communication tools and noise-canceling headphones. On-site signage encourages visitors to discuss sensory needs of guests with staff so accommodations can be made.

Needs assessment

To ensure lessons are inclusive, two questions were added to the online registration system.

The first asks: “Does the participant require a reasonable modification/accommodation to participate in this program or activity as provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?” If “yes,” then registrants are asked to provide details on their needs.

Each person who answers “yes” is contacted by the PRCF inclusion specialist so arrangements can be made before the start of any program.

The city estimates that 1,000 individuals with special needs visited the aquatics centers last summer.

“In addition, the city’s summer adaptive recreation program visited the pools regularly and included 110 individuals with intellectual disabilities,” says Courtney Clay, aquatics supervisor.

The city has an adaptive swim team for individuals between 8 and 18 years old. In September, Skyline Aquatic Center hosted a Special Olympics swim meet, welcoming more than 365 athletes from eight delegations throughout Arizona.