Georgia Aquarium Is a Kingdom Fit for a Chair

Ever wonder if Poseidon's kingdom is up to date on ADA compliancy? Now you can find out by visiting the Georgia Aquarium, a newly opened undersea exhibit located in the heart of downtown Atlanta (225 Baker Street).

With winding, gently ramped walkways wide enough to accommodate even the largest power chairs, three boldly marked elevators throughout the building and eager to help staff, the aquarium offers visitors floor-to-ceiling windows into the great deep for eyeing colorful schools of fish and even majestic beluga whales.

The aquarium is currently being retrofitted with ADA components, with the help of Welcome Change and ADA consultant Anne DelBene.

The aquarium installed handrails in many areas, widened the entrance of the Tropical Diver gallery and carved out a wide track through the gift shop so that visitors, who must navigate the merchandise to exit, can do so easily. The signage also is more pronounced. Most of the restrooms incorporate roll-under sinks, full-length mirrors and automated sinks and soap and towel dispensers.

The aquarium has implemented many changes to the touch pools to make them more accessible, including a sink at Cold Water Quest's touch tank so people who use mobility equipment don't have to use slippery sanitizing gel to wash their hands. Anyone who uses a wheelchair can ask the staff to put some of the animals in a basket for more accessible petting.

Ramps take visitors into and out of the aquarium, and an accessible drop-off is located near the entrance ramps. The parking deck is equipped with an elevator, automatic doors and wheelchairs on hand for anyone who needs them.

But be warned, the aquarium is so new that people are flocking to the exhibit in hordes. In fact, congestion has been one obstacle for the aquarium. The large number of people inside can make navigating a wheelchair — even through the widest halls — a bit of a challenge.

Currently, the aquarium is working on adding family restrooms, installing an interactive rumbler platform for wheelchairs at the 4-D show and remodeling the confusing ramp in the main atrium (which goes up to the rotunda, not the Cold Water Quest exhibit).

"If you're using mobility equipment, come early or come late," says DelBene. "If you need assistance, ask. The staff is trained. Because there are so many ramps in a row in some of the exhibits, it can get tiring. So, we have volunteers on staff; we have personnel that can be available.

"We are here to serve you," she says.

Make your reservations in advance by calling (404) 581-4000 or visiting www.georgiaaquarium.org.

Top 10 Tips for Navigating the Georgia Aquarium

DelBene offers visitors with mobility disabilities the following advice:

  1. Come early or come late.
  2. If you need help, ask for the trained staff for assistance.
  3. Some of the exhibits have many ramps in a row, which can be very tiring if you are self-propelling. A staff member can assist.
  4. Until the modification to remove the baby changing stations from the accessible stalls in the main restroom has been completed, visit the restrooms located in Cafe Aquaria instead.
  5. Watch out for large crowds in Tropical Diver.
  6. If you'd like to touch an animal in one of the touch pools, ask a staff person to put the animal in a basket for you. While the staff is trained to offer assistance, with the high volume of people, the staff may not see you immediately. Be warned, however, that in exhibits like the Georgia Explorer, some animals cannot be taken out of the touch tanks.
  7. In Ocean Voyager, when you get to the top of the big ramp, the next ramp to get down to the main floor to see the window is a U turn to the left — a turn that can be a bit confusing.
  8. The big ramp in the center of the atrium takes you not to Cold Water Quest, but to the rotunda and ballroom. Instead use the ramp that starts near Georgia Explorer to get to the exhibit.
  9. Sign up for the Behind the Scenes tour, which the aquarium is working on making seamlessly accessible.
  10. Call beforehand and get your tickets beforehand. A staff person can be on hand to lead you through the aquarium and can set you up with a wheelchair if needed.

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