Haring Center

April 24, 2019

A Zoo for Everyone

Haring Center Works with the Woodland Park Zoo to Help Them Become a ‘Zoo of Inclusion’

Haring Center trainers are working with the Woodland Park Zoo staff to adopt inclusive practices into their day-to-day operations, making zoo experiences more accessible to everyone.

“This is something that is valued at Woodland Park Zoo,” said Haring Center Education Specialist Gina Dobberstein. “We are collaborating with them to support their work, focusing on all that ways inclusive practices can be implemented.”

Committed to creating more inclusive schools and communities, the Haring Center works with a variety of organizations to support their use of practices that support inclusion. While many professional development partners are schools and educational organizations, Haring Center trainers also work with community institutions such as the Pacific Science Center, the King County Library System, and the Seattle Opera.

“Community agencies see us as a resource being able to take best practices and model them for educator roles not related to the traditional school system,” said Dobberstein. “These partnerships have led to some exciting community collaborations and more opportunities for children of all abilities.”

Woodland Park Zoo’s work with the Haring Center is part of the zoo’s new strategic plan to envision a world where everyone lives sustainably with wildlife and their habitats. It is a top-down strategy that values inclusion, community, education, and social change. Haring Center Director Ilene Schwartz, Ph.D., meets monthly with the zoo board to discuss inclusive progress and goals.

To kick off work with the zoo, Haring Center trainers held a leadership summit to determine the many different opportunities the entire zoo staff has to be inclusive. The work group included zoo staff from People and Culture department, the interpretive services department, volunteer support staff, and lead volunteers. A goal of Woodland Park is to make the environment more accessible to volunteers with disabilities. Currently the zoo relies on roughly 700 total volunteers in a year. About 10 of those volunteers have a disability. The zoo would like to triple that number in the near future.

In their work with the Haring Center, zoo staff also identified how to make the environment more welcoming and accommodating to all guests, including making modifications to exhibits, signage, and landscape, as well as updating processes such as how staff and volunteers interact with animal trainers.

“The zoo is looking at both a little picture where their volunteers and zoo-goers to benefit from their inclusive training and a bigger picture of becoming a role model for the local and zoo communities,” said Dobberstein. “They want to be a leader in the field and that is exciting.”

The Haring Center is helping turn these goals into reality by training lead learning facilitators for inclusion at the zoo so the staff there can help spread inclusive practices throughout their organization. Haring Center trainers will hold another leadership summit with Woodland Park Zoo in the near future before designing specific trainings for staff. If you’d like to learn more about Haring Center professional development and training, please email Alison Winfield.