Grand Rapids Public Museum and John Ball Zoo Partner to Become Sensory Inclusive Certified

KultureCity has partnered with the John Ball Zoo (JBZ) and the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) to make their organizations, including all of the programs and events hosted, to be sensory inclusive. This new initiative will promote an accommodating and positive experience for all guests with a sensory issue that visits both the John Ball Zoo and Grand Rapids Public Museum.

The certification process entailed the staff at the JBZ and the GRPM being trained by leading medical professionals on how to recognize guests with sensory needs and how to handle a sensory overload situation. Sensory bags, equipped with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads will be available to guests who may feel overwhelmed by the environment.

Visitors can look for sensory bags being available at the GRPM starting early April 2019 and at the John Ball Zoo in May 2019.

Prior to attending JBZ or the GRPM, families can download the free KultureCity App where one can view what sensory inclusive features are available and where they can be accessed. Also, on the App is the Social Story which will provide a preview of what to expect while enjoying their visit.

“Having the opportunity to collaborate with KultureCity and the Museum to offer sensory kits to our guests embodies the Zoo’s value of diversity within the culture, talents, and experiences of our communities,” said Peter D’Arienzo, CEO of John Ball Zoo. “We are also thankful for these benefits both the Zoo and the Museum are able to provide to the community through the passage of the 2016 millage.”

“As the Museum and Zoo continue our partnership, we are pleased to be able to offer sensory kits to our visitors, and provide additional training for our staff and volunteers,” said Dale Robertson, President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. “We strive to be a place where all people feel welcome. Thanks to the 2016 millage, we’re able to bring things like KultureCity to our organizations.”

Sensory sensitivities or challenges with sensory regulation are often experienced by individuals with autism, dementia, PTSD and other similar conditions. One of the major barriers for these individuals is sensitivity to overstimulation and noise, which is a part of the environment at public spaces like the Museum and Zoo. With their new certification, both the Museum and Zoo are now better prepared to assist guests with sensory sensitivities in having the most comfortable and accommodating experience possible when visiting.

“To know that you soon will be able to see families attend the Museum and Zoo, a true community experience, with their loved ones who have a sensory challenge and who were not able to previously attend, is truly a heartwarming moment. Our communities are what shapes our lives and to know that both the Grand Rapids Public Museum and John Ball Zoo are willing to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone, no matter their ability, is included in their community is amazing.” Traci Johnson, Executive Director, KultureCity.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum and John Ball Zoo are community partners, both receiving funding thanks to a Kent County millage passed in November 2016. Thanks to the millage funding, opportunities like this are available to the community.

KultureCity is a leading non-profit recognized nationwide for using their resources to revolutionize and effect change in the community for those with sensory needs; not just those with Autism. Since the program’s inception, KultureCity has created over 200 sensory inclusive venues in 3 countries; this includes special events such as NFL Pro-Bowl, NFL Super Bowl, MLB All Star Weekend. KultureCity has won many awards for its efforts: NASCAR Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award in 2017, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Quiet Space Sensory Room at Quicken Loans Arena was a finalist for the 2018 Stadium Business Award and the 2018 Clio Sports Silver for social good in partnership with Cleveland Cavaliers/Quicken Loans Arena. Recently, KultureCity was awarded one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2019 by FastCompany.

John Ball Zoo

As a leader in education, conservation, and community engagement, John Ball Zoo welcomes over 500,000 guests annually and is the second most-attended cultural institution west of Detroit. Proudly accredited by the Association of Zoo & Aquariums, the John Ball Zoo is a modern, science-based zoo on the cutting edge of habitat design and species research. With more than 2,000 animals and 210 species, the John Ball Zoo inspires people to be active participants in the conservation of wildlife and our natural environment. The John Ball Zoo is located on the west side of Grand Rapids at 1300 W. Fulton St. For additional details regarding Zoo hours and admission, along with education and conservation programs, visit or call 616-336-4300. 

Grand Rapids Public Museum

The Grand Rapids Public Museum is an invaluable, publicly-owned institution that is home to more than 250,000 unique artifacts that tell the history of Kent County and beyond, houses the only planetarium in the region and is responsible for protecting The Mounds, a national historic landmark. The Grand Rapids Public Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, with its main location in downtown Grand Rapids, MI at 272 Pearl Street, NW. For additional information including hours of operation, admission fees, and exhibit/event listings, please visit