One of our fantastic Consumer Advisory Board members, Michelle Rich, just paid a visit to the Georgia Aquarium. Read on to find out what she and her family discovered there!
Megan and Keegan Marvel at Jellyfish
An Inclusive Exploration of the Georgia Aquarium
My family recently relocated to beautiful Atlanta, Georgia after living in Kansas for the past 16 years. For months we have been visiting the landmarks and tourist hot spots, and participating in the rich culture of the South. Our unanimous favorite is the Georgia Aquarium. Since three of the five of us have varying levels of hearing loss, our adventures in any new venue involve finding ways to have an inclusive experience. In this visit to the Aquarium, I wanted to explore the accessibility features for both deaf/hard of hearing with my 16 year old daughter who is hard of hearing and get the basic experience that a blind/low vision visitor might have, even though I am sighted. We had an exciting day with many barriers to access broken down while at the same time seeing some room for improvement in others.
You Can Really Get INTO The Fish!
The Georgia Aquarium is the largest in the world, with over 10 million gallons of fresh and marine water and more diverse aquatic life than any other aquarium representing 500 different species. Whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins, beluga whales, loggerhead sea turtles, penguins, corals, and piranha, to name a few are among the 100,000 animals found at the aquarium. It is divided into six main galleries: Cold Water Quest, Tropical Diver, Georgia Explorer, River Scout, Dolphin Tales, and Ocean Voyager. There is a seventh gallery that is currently running an exhibit on Frogs.
Planning is always a good start for an adventure and we began ours on the website reading about the animals we would encounter and the accessibility features of the aquarium. The website features animal fact sheets and tutorials, You Tube videos, and live webcams in the various galleries. The website does not contain captions, but does allow for automatically generated captions. For consumers of captions, these translations are better than nothing, but do miss the mark in some important areas. For example, on the video titled, “Beluga Whale Pregnancy: Chapter 1,” the audio states that there is a low success rate in cetacean birth whereas the transcription interprets the audio as there is a lot of success in cetacean birth. Clearly the transcription does not deliver the intended message here. Additionally, audio description is needed on all of the videos to fully experience the scenery. There is a vast amount of educational information available on the website to digest in preparation for the visit. The website highlights accessibility features for guest with hearing or visual exceptionalities. It would be helpful to have those features outlined and available for guests at the information booth once you arrive as well.
Each gallery ran an educational video about the exhibit with captions, thus affording access for those with hearing loss. With all of the ambient sounds in the galleries, the captions are a huge benefit to the hearing guest as well. An option for audio description would be a valuable addition to the educational videos. Although we did not request animal models, they are purportedly available in each gallery. We experienced some tactile wood carvings of animals in the River Scout exhibit.
Captions Help Everyone in the Noisy Environment
One of our favorite areas in the aquarium are the touch pools where guests can reach in and feel small bonnethead sharks, stingrays, and shrimp. There is wheelchair access to the pools and staff members are available to personally assist those with visual exceptionalities. Staff members narrate the touch pools over a microphone to the audience. A speech-to-text program to translate the dialogue into text might be something to explore for d/hh guests in this area.
Dolphin Tales is a spectacular 30 minute production incorporating acrobatic dolphins and Broadway-quality singing, dancing, and swimming human performers. Unfortunately, the show is not captioned nor described. Large panels are suspended from the ceiling throughout the production and would be an excellent place to display captions. An audio description available through an IPOD feed would make this production accessible to those who are b/vi. The addition of these accessibility features would make this a rich sensory experience.
Finally, we took a Behind the Scenes tour of the aquarium and it was an exhilarating experience. Our tour guide, Jan, was beyond compare. Before the tour, I explained that my daughter had hearing loss and that I was hoping to experience all of the tactile elements of the tour as if I were without sight and he responded with a specialized tour for us. The hallway to the Ocean Voyager area contains sized tactile representations of several of the animals on exhibit. This would be a valuable experience for the guest who is blind. We will not forget experiencing the football field sized pool containing a 25-foot-long whale shark from the top of the pool and the accompanying description of all of the marine life below. Our tour guide was sure to face my daughter when talking to aid her speech reading and the small size of the group, four in total, allowed for one to one communication to take place. This is another area where perhaps a speech-to-text translation program might be a workable solution.
- Fish Outlines Help Teach Sizes and Shapes
Overall, the Georgia Aquarium has done a really good job of breaking down barriers to access for those with sensory exceptionalities. There is room for improvement and I plan to share this information with the aquarium and offer my consumer suggestions for improved access. We had a wonderful day at the aquarium and I can’t wait to go back and explore again. If you visit the Atlanta area, be sure to put this on the top of your list of things to do.