VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Visalia is taking action to make it easier for those with autism to enjoy everything the area has to offer.
It has been named the country's first certified autism destination by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
The city prides itself in being a welcoming community, and it's now leading the way when it comes to attracting and supporting a group of travelers that's often forgotten about.
"There are wheelchair ramps for people that have limited mobility, but hidden disabilities -- like autism -- are a little more challenging to deal with. So we felt like we wanted to just kind of confront that head-on," explained Visit Visalia tourism marketing director Suzanne Bianco.
A recent study by Autism Travel shows 87% of families with a child who is autistic do not travel, but 93% would be more likely to if autism-certified options were available.
This past year and a half, Visit Visalia has been taking action to get its tourism partners trained and certified - in autism and sensory disorder sensitivity and awareness -- by IBCCES.
"We thought that we really needed to change that and be welcoming, to be understanding, have our staff here, locally, understand what challenges they may face and be prepared to help with that," Bianco said.
Families can utilize Visit Visalia's Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program, a simple way to self-identify they'll need a little extra help. For example, Visit Visalia lodging partners can help families during check-in, which can be sensory overload for those with autism.
"The staff can either expedite checking, if possible, or move the family to a quieter area of the hotel so that they can complete the check-in process and quickly get to their room," said Bianco.
There are several restaurants and attractions in the Visalia area that are sensory-friendly for families. The city is also planning to host sensory-friendly events in the near future.
For more information on how Visit Visalia is supporting individuals with autism, visit the website.