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Accessibility and Sensory Information

The Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is committed to providing inclusive experiences for all audiences. If you need any assistance, please ask at any Information Station or parking booth. For more information for visitors with disabilities to the Zoo, please call the Guest Services Office at 202-633-4180

Service Animals

Service animals are welcome at the Zoo. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Pets are not permitted.

Getting To and Around the Zoo

All Zoo exhibits are wheelchair accessible. However, please be aware that the Zoo is located on hilly terrain in Rock Creek Park. In the Visitor Center lobby, a lift give wheelchair users access to restrooms, water fountains and the Asia Trail shop. Benches are located throughout the Zoo.

Parking and Entrances

Designated accessible parking spaces are located in Parking Lots A, B and D on a first-come, first-served basis.

Wheelchair and Electronic Vehicle Rental

Wheelchairs and electronic vehicles are available to rent on a first-come, first-served basis in the Visitor Center and at the Information Stations at Panda Plaza and across from the Mane Grill.

Manual Wheelchair: Free

Electronic Convenience Vehicle: $25 for members, $30 for non-members 

Please note: A state-issued driver's license or photo I.D. is required to rent and operate an electronic convenience vehicle. Guests must be at least 16 years old to operate an electronic vehicle and those under 18 years old must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Guest Shuttle Service

A wheelchair-accessible guest shuttle operates on a continuous loop from the Bus Parking Lot to the lower entrance of the Zoo and back. The shuttles takes 15-20 minutes to complete the loop and does not stop at Parking Lot C.

Shuttle Hours

Summer: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Winter: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Restrooms

Restrooms are located at the Visitor Center, Panda Plaza, Elephant Outpost and Conservation Pavilion. All restrooms throughout the Zoo are accessible. The Visitor Center's restrooms and water fountains are accessible via a wheelchair lift.

Family restrooms are located in the Visitor Center, Elephant Outpost and Conservation Pavilion. All restrooms at the Zoo have automatic flushing mechanisms.

Programs and Services

Public Programs

Access services for guided tours, including sign language interpretation, hearing assistance devices and tactile tours with verbal description, are available by request with two weeks advanced notice. Please call 202-633-4180 to request accessibility services.

Theater Programming

Assisted Listening Devices (ALDs) are available upon request for programs in the Zoo Theater, located inside the Visitor Center.

Accessible seating and companion seating is available. Please request upon arrival, and a team member will direct you to the accessible seating.

Access services, including sign language interpretation, CART and audio description, are available upon request. Please call 202-633-4180 two weeks in advance of the program to request these services.

Aira

The Zoo is a location for the Aira Access mobile information and verbal description service. Visitors can download the free Aira app on a smartphone and use the app to speak to an Aira agent using minutes provided courtesy of the Zoo. For 30-minute intervals, an agent can assist with wayfinding to the nearest dining area, shop or restroom, describing the exhibits with details about size, number of animals, signage and more. To continue beyond the allotted time, visitors can call for a new agent. Visit Aira Access for more information.

Aira Horizon Glasses/Phone

Guests who do not have access via a smartphone may check out a pair of Aira glasses with smartphone free of charge with a valid photo ID for use during their visit. Guests can check out glasses from the Information Station inside the Visitor Center.

Morning at the Museum

Morning at the Museum is a free, sensory friendly program for families with children with disabilities. The program is managed by the Access Smithsonian office. On select dates, registered families are invited to visit a Smithsonian museum or part of the Zoo before it opens to the public. Each program has thematic activities that relate to the museum or Zoo's exhibit content, as well as a take-a-break sensory space. Families are also welcome to explore the museum or Zoo exhibit at their own pace.

Prior to each program, pre-visit materials are sent via email to registered families to help them plan and prepare. Programs take place on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Registration is required. To register for a program or to learn more, please contact Ashley Grady at access@si.edu.

Sensory Friendly Tools and Information

Social Narratives

Social narratives are resource guides for individuals with cognitive disabilities and are useful as pre-visit guides to animal areas within the park. The social narratives highlight what visitors may encounter while touring the Zoo. In addition to showcasing animals in the collection, these guides also provide information on quiet areas, educational demonstrations, hands-on activities and artistic works. View and download the Zoo's social narratives.

Sensory Friendly Kits

Sensory friendly kits are available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Kits contain fidget items, child-sized, noise-canceling headphones, earplugs, and a weighted comfort item. Guests may check out kits from any of the Information Stations by providing a valid photo ID.

Tactile Elements

Tactile elements are provided for all visitors throughout the Zoo as part of exhibits and as part of volunteer-led programming (subject to volunteer availability).

Quieter Times to Visit the Zoo

Labor Day through Easter (excluding Thanksgiving through New Year’s for ZooLights) is typically a less busy, quieter time of the year to visit the Zoo. For additional information related to visiting during special events, please see the events page. Visitation varies depending on holidays, school vacations, weather and other factors. Light, noise and crowds vary widely between animal exhibits.

Website Accessibility

The Zoo is committed to making its information and communication technologies accessible to individuals with disabilities. To meet this commitment, web pages have been designed to meet or exceed the Section-508 standards and to conform to the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. 

If you have feedback or concerns related to the accessibility of any content on this website, or have ideas or comments that would help improve the accessibility and usability of this website, please contact the Office of Communications at 202-633-3055. If applicable, please include the web address or URL, and the specific problems you have encountered.