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Opinion: Springfield CVB is state’s first Certified Autism Center – businesses can join effort

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Each year, Springfield welcomes millions of visitors, inviting them to share in the myriad experiences the city offers. Whether it’s an amateur sporting event, business conference or weekend getaway, there are many reasons why people choose Springfield as their destination city.

For a segment of travelers, however, unique challenges must be taken into consideration when planning a trip, including deciding where to go. According to the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, 1 in 6 people have a sensory need. Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that causes adults and children to behave, communicate, interact and learn in ways that are different from other people. Often referred to as an invisible disability, the disorder isn’t easily recognizable and its effects can vary greatly from one person to another.

Individuals with autism, along with their traveling companions, represent a growing demographic in the tourism market. Loud noises, stimulating environments and unfamiliar surroundings are just some of the factors that can create a harsh experience for a person with autism.

Hospitality’s response
The travel industry has become increasingly aware of the importance of providing full sensory accommodations for neurodiverse individuals and their families. In 2019, Mesa, Arizona, became the first Autism Certified City by the IBCCES through a collaborative awareness and training campaign that encompassed key community stakeholders and the hospitality industry. Other destinations are striving to achieve the same.

The Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc., a nonprofit marketing organization dedicated to improving the local economy through growth in tourism, is intentional in efforts to promote an inclusionary experience for all visitors. After learning about the groundbreaking work in Mesa, the CVB developed a plan to learn more about what a visitor with a sensory disorder might need in order to have a truly welcoming and enjoyable experience while in Springfield. In 2022, the Springfield CVB became a Certified Autism Center, the first destination marketing organization in Missouri to earn that designation from the IBCCES.

Inclusive credentials
The autism and neurodiversity training is administered by the IBCCES, a professional organization dedicated to educating the business community on sensory disorders and how to accommodate the wide range of needs of the people who have autism. The program consists of online courses and, depending on the type of business, an on-site audit of practices and a tailored plan that provides recommendations on how a participating organization can make its business more inclusive.

Three levels of certification are available through the IBCCES program. A Certified Autism Center is for an individual organization and requires 80% of staff to complete the training. The next level is Certified Autism Destination. This is when a city has a certain number of hotels, restaurants, recreation and entertainment venues individually certified as Certified Autism Centers. The highest level of certification is Autism Certified City. This is when a city has key stakeholders – including health care, education, local government, hospitality, leisure and corporate members – trained and certified.

In order for Springfield to become a Certified Autism Destination, the IBCCES requires a certain threshold of businesses and organizations to complete the awareness training. The Springfield CVB is now encouraging area organizations to learn more about this program and the benefits it can provide to visitors and local residents that have ASD. The CVB will be hosting two hour-long virtual information sessions on Feb. 23 and 28, and the public and businesses are encouraged to join. Register at

Tonia Castaneda is finance and administration director at the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. She can be reached at


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