Lifestyle & Human Interest

The First-Ever Autism Certified City in the World Can Be Found in Arizona


A municipality just east of Phoenix has become the first Autism Certified City in the world.

The certification was nearly a yearlong process, according to a Nov. 18 news release from the city of Mesa, Arizona, and will allow the city to “tailor travel experiences for individuals with autism and their families.”

Nearly 60 businesses and organizations completed autism certification training from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, which will help them recognize better serve individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

The initiative was sparked by Visit Mesa President and CEO Marc Garcia, who has a 6-year-old son with autism.

Visit Mesa told The Western Journal that Garcia was motivated by an unpleasant travel experience with his family after his son had a “meltdown.”

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“You get these very strange looks from other adults in those situations. It’s uncomfortable. Even worse, you’re made to feel unwelcome,” he said.

It was this experience that made him realize something was missing from the travel and tourism industry and he wanted to fill the gap in his hometown.

When Garcia brought the idea in front of other city groups, such as the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and departments within the city’s government, it was quickly embraced.

Nearly 4,000 Mesa employees have completed or committed to the autism certification, including 500 Mesa Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities employees and 1,200 Mesa Police Department public safety and law enforcement officers.

“Many of our hotels, attractions and our museums went through an exhaustive process to become autism certified,” Visit Mesa told the Western Journal.

“In fact, many organizations wanted to join the effort — it was immediately embraced by the business community and the eagerness to join the movement was unlike anything we’ve seen before — several companies underwent an intensive auditing of their offering which is focused on the sensory impacts of their every day operations.”

As a part of the new certification, Visit Mesa launched a web page that includes an Autism Travel Guide for the city, highlighting lodging, dining and attractions that are autism certified.

According to the IBCCES website, in order for a city to become autism certified, “community stakeholders” — such as organizations in hospitality, entertainment, health care and transportation — must undergo certification that equips them to better serve individuals on the autism spectrum.

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“Mesa, Ariz. stands out for the drive of its leaders and the commitment, passion and engagement of the business community,” Myron Pincomb, IBCCES board chairman, said in a news release.

“We’re proud to say that through this partnership and the IBCCES certification, individuals with autism or sensory sensitivities can feel confident they will have a positive experience in Mesa.”

Visit Mesa is hoping that its newest certification will inspire other communities to also pursue the certification through IBCCES.

Garcia argued that intentional inclusivity is not only “the right thing to do,” but that it is also “good business.”

“Mesa becoming the first Autism Certified City provides greater awareness, understanding, sensitivity and most importantly, customer service to the ASD community,” he said in a statement to The Western Journal. “This will ensure that everyone, every family, has as memorable a vacation and experience as anyone else.

“Second, this is a business decision. We felt this was a great way to get in front of a very large and growing consumer base that is hyper loyal. Visit Mesa is elevating Mesa’s brand to both domestic and global audiences through this initiative and it’s already paying dividends.

“This citywide effort made sense for Mesa. We are a city of compassion with a big heart and there is substance and authenticity to this certification that we know visitors will embrace.”

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Kayla has been a staff writer for The Western Journal since 2018.
Kayla Kunkel began writing for The Western Journal in 2018.
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