Mesa is the first-ever Autism Certified City in the U.S. designated by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), raising the profile of the East Valley city to millions of individuals with autism and millions of annual travelers impacted by autism. The innovative initiative is expected to raise the national profile of the city and inject a new source of visitor dollars to the region.
The nearly year-long effort behind the autism designation was launched by Visit Mesa, the leading regional destination marketing organization, to encourage businesses to participate in specialized autism training geared toward executives and front-facing hospitality and service staff to better recognize Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and service the needs of ASD travelers from the planning stages of a vacation to when they arrive in the destination, and throughout their stay. Marc Garcia, Visit Mesa’s CEO, ignited the effort after his 6-year-old son’s autism diagnosis.
“With Visit Mesa leading the charge, Mesa, Ariz. is rolling out the welcome mat for individuals on the autism spectrum,” said Mayor John Giles. “We commend Marc Garcia and the staff at Visit Mesa for their vision.”
The effort was immediately embraced by other city factions including the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and numerous non-profit organizations. More than 500 Mesa Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities employees and 1,200-plus Mesa Police Department public safety and law enforcement officers are fully committed to autism certification training. To date, nearly 4,000 community members have completed or committed to the autism certification – and that number is growing!
In total, almost 60 businesses and organizations in Mesa and the surrounding area completed autism certification training, and are now each deemed a Certified Autism Center by IBCCES, such as Jake’s Unlimited, AZ Goat Yoga, i.d.e.a. Museum, Arizona Museum of Natural History, Mesa Arts Center, Main St. Bar and Grill and Escape Rooms Mesa. See complete list here: AutismTravelAz.com.
In April 2019, IBCCES named Visit Mesa the country’s first-ever destination marketing organization designated as a Certified Autism Center.
“Visit Mesa is a national change agent in the travel industry. We’ve always been entrepreneurial and innovative in the ways we respond to the needs of our regional visitors. Autism trainings and certifications are the latest example,” said Marc Garcia, president & CEO of Visit Mesa. “Our goal is to ensure individuals with autism and their families enjoy an ideal vacation in Mesa, Ariz. As a parent of a child diagnosed on the spectrum, not only is inclusivity the right thing to do, it makes business sense.”
IBCCES announced Mesa’s designation at the Mesa Arts Center on November 18, 2019.
Dr. Kerry Magro, an award-winning professional speaker, best-selling author and autism consultant to the upcoming HBO series, “Mrs. Fletcher,” served as the event’s keynote speaker, presenting a talk called, “Defining Autism: from Nonverbal to Professional Speaker.”
“Growing up from my earliest days of severe autism, public outings and traveling were not often an option available to me and my family. I’m now happy to see today, though, that groups such as IBCCES & Visit Mesa are steering the way to a more inclusive environment for all our families,” Magro said. “When I heard of Marc Garcia’s story of supporting his son on the autism spectrum, I was close to tears. We often say it takes a village and people like Marc make a true difference for this community.”
Mesa’s efforts have rubbed off on neighboring towns. The Town of Queen Creek is pursuing autism certification. Queen Creek’s Fire Department recently signed on and their Parks and Recreation Department has already completed the training to earn the Certified Autism Center™ designation.
IBCCES’ comprehensive, evidence-based process includes educational trainings and knowledge assessments of common behaviors and sensory considerations associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some businesses also participated in IBCCES audits to further improve experiences for individuals with autism.
More than 32 million individuals with autism and their families travel each year, according to IBCCES’ data. More than $262 billion is spent on autism-related services in the U.S. each year, according to IBCCES. Autism affects a significant number of people as ASD is at a 600 percent increase year after year, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.