A Major Inclusion Initiative
From a sports tourism standpoint, Visit Mesa’s leadership in autism certification means that participants in the city’s typical sporting events can feel comfortable bringing family members who are on the autism spectrum. Whereas in the past an athlete might have traveled with one parent and a sibling with autism would stay home with the rest of the family, Keller hopes that will change as the word gets out about Mesa’s autism friendliness.
“If we can help make it so the entire family can be here, not only to support the athlete but also to have a family vacation, that’s just really a win-win for us,” she says. “
Measures that will help people with autism and their loved ones enjoy Mesa more include accessibility and guides for certain events, adaptive playgrounds and museum exhibits, quiet rooms in hotels and an overall awareness, arising from the IBCCES training, that will allow employees in the hospitality industry to understand the potential challenges—and solutions—for people with autism who are away from home.
As officials look toward a citywide launch of Mesa’s ongoing autism certification in the fall, Keller and her colleagues are also expanding their recruiting efforts to attract more adaptive sports events. The goal is for autistic athletes, not just relatives of typical athletes, to discover that Mesa is an optimal place to come for sports competition in the growing area of adaptive athletics.
“This is the kid of destination we are, where we’re constantly thinking ahead to see where we can be more inclusive, constantly trying to open our arms a little bit wider,” Keller says.