Mesa, Arizona, is the first autism-certified city in the United States. Designated by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), it’s the result of an almost year-long quest to tailor travel experiences for individuals with autism and their families.
The effort behind the designation was launched by Visit Mesa to encourage hospitality businesses to participate in specialised autism training geared toward executives and front-facing service staff. The training helps better recognise autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and service the needs of ASD travellers from the planning stages of a holiday to when they arrive at the destination and throughout their stay.
“Our goal is to ensure individuals with autism and their families enjoy their perfect vacation in Mesa,” said Visit Mesa President and CEO Marc Garcia. “As a parent of a child diagnosed on the spectrum, not only is inclusivity the right thing to do, it makes business sense.”
In total, almost 60 businesses and organisations completed autism-certification training and are now deemed certified autism centres by IBCCES. The effort was immediately embraced by other city organizations, including Mesa Chamber of Commerce. More than 500 Mesa Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities employees and 1200-plus Mesa Police Department public safety and law enforcement officers have completed autism-certification training. In total, almost 4000 community members are autism-certified.
“IBCCES certifies organisations across the globe,” said IBCCES Board Chairman Myron Pincomb. “Mesa stands out for the drive of its leaders and the commitment, passion and engagement of the business community. We’re proud to say that through this partnership and the IBCCES certification, individuals with autism or sensory sensitivities can feel confident they will have a positive experience in Mesa.”
As part of this citywide initiative, Copa Health, an autism-certified non-profit organisation in Mesa, has launched its Copa Connect program, which provides tailored autism respite to allow families travel time, outings with or without their child and the ability to participate in activities that support self-care without guilt, fear or anxiety. The team provides support services and recreational activities for families with children visiting Mesa, using a variety of techniques including drop-in services, on-site visits and community outings. Copa Connect is available by appointment only by contacting Copa Health (480-969-3800 or copahealth.org).
For travel planning, download the new Visit Mesa Autism Travel Guide and head online to view a complete list of certified autism centres in Mesa at AutismTravelAz.com.