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St. Johns County leads accessibility movement with Certified Autism Centers™ initiative

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — St. Johns County is making strides toward inclusivity and accessibility with the announcement of its Certified Autism Centers™ (CAC) initiative.

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Spearheaded by the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau (VCB) and Old Town Trolley Tours® & Attractions of St. Augustine, this movement aims to provide a warm welcome to individuals on the autism spectrum and those with sensory sensitivities.

The accolades of Certified Autism Centers™ were granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), reflecting the commitment of these organizations to cater to the unique needs of autistic visitors. To achieve this status, the staff at the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, VCB, and Old Town Trolley Tours® & Attractions of St. Augustine underwent specialized training to better understand the requirements of individuals on the Autism Spectrum. IBCCES also conducted comprehensive on-site reviews of the facilities, ensuring that the attractions, including Old Town Trolley Tours®, Old Jail, Oldest Store Museum Experience, St. Augustine History Museum, and Potter’s Wax Museum, are sensory-friendly and well-prepared to host all guests.

Isabelle Renault, President and CEO of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, expressed her enthusiasm for the Autism Certification Program, which aims to extend the warm embrace of St. Johns County to diverse groups of visitors. “Our ultimate goal is for our community to become an Autism Certified Destination,” Renault stated.

Dave Chatterton, General Manager of Old Town Trolley Tours & Attractions of St. Augustine, emphasized the importance of this initiative, stating, “Providing opportunities for individuals and families to safely experience St. Augustine’s rich history, culture, and old-world charms is a crucial aspect of enhancing the quality of life for autistic individuals, and we are committed to enabling that to the best of our ability.”

The County’s aspiration to become a Certified Autism Destination™ has garnered support from various quarters. Tera Meeks, St. Johns County Director of Tourism and Cultural Development, expressed pride in the accessibility initiative, highlighting its potential to expand and strengthen the tourism base while increasing the inclusivity of the destination.

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The commitment is further underscored by the St. Johns Board of County Commission’s decision to triple its budget in fiscal year 2024 for reimbursement grants to tourism-based businesses receiving Autism Destination Certification.

The Certified Autism Center™ designation awarded to St. Johns County’s Chamber of Commerce, VCB, and Old Town Trolley Tours® & Attractions of St. Augustine represents a commendable step towards a more inclusive future. Myron Pincomb, Board Chairman of IBCCES, lauded these organizations for their commitment to creating a welcoming destination for autistic and sensory-sensitive individuals.

With this initiative, St. Johns County sets an inspiring example for other destinations to follow, ensuring that tourism is accessible and enjoyable for all individuals, irrespective of their unique needs.

For more information about Certified Autism Centers™ and resources, visit AutismTravel.com and CertifiedAutismCenter.com.

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