This 'Sesame Street' theme park is making history for kids and families with autism.

A Pennsylvania theme park has just been awarded an important distinction.

Sesame Place, a children's theme and water park based on the television program "Sesame Street," was declared a Certified Autism Center by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).

As part of its detailed certification process, Sesame Place requires at least 80% of its staff to complete rigorous training on autism sensitivity and awareness. The park also installed "quiet rooms" as safe spaces for visitors who may be experiencing sensory overload and offers noise-canceling headphones to attendees throughout the park.


"Sesame Street" character Julia, who has autism, is also on-hand at the park to provide a familiar face and help educate guests who might not be as familiar with autism.

Image via Sesame Street/YouTube.

"It is our goal to provide every family with an enjoyable and memorable visit to Sesame Place, and we are proud to offer specialized services to guests with autism and other special needs," the company announced in a statement on its website.

The changes go beyond the actual park as well. It revamped its online resources and the planning process for families too.

In addition, Sesame Place provides information and strategies for guests to better prepare for their visit to the park, with detailed planning tips on their website, including a sensory ranking system for rides, low-sensory parade routes, and other details for related services like travel and dining.

The end result is to give guests and their families "peace of mind" even before they enter the park.

Photo by Shawn Collins/Flickr.

Sesame Place isn't the only park making strides in accessibility either.

While Sesame Place is the first park to earn the Certified Autism Center distinction, other parks are making inclusive strides as well.

Disneyland has received praise for its efforts to expand disability services to guests, including those with autism. And in late 2017, a video went viral showing a young guest interacting with a park employee in sign language.

Also in 2017, a $17 million dollar water park in San Antonio called Morgan's Inspiration Island opened with the goal of being accessible to all people with disabilities.

However, what's actually "magical" about moments like these are how there's nothing magical at all required — just awareness, hard work, and recognizing the value of accessibility and representation for all children and families.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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