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©Shedd Aquarium/Heidi Zeiger

Sensory-friendly experiences

Chicago is home to some of the world’s best museums and attractions. In order to make these iconic institutions more accessible to all visitors, many offer special sensory-friendly events and experiences throughout the year.

These programs cater to people of all ages and needs, whether it’s hands-on workshops for children with autism or special events for veterans and adults with disabilities. Learn more about sensory-friendly experiences at Chicago’s museums and attractions.

Sensory-friendly museums

A mother and child look at a mummy in the Field Museum
Field Museum

Field Museum
The
Field Museum has something for kids of all ages — they can meet mummies inside an Egyptian tomb, marvel at Maximo the titanosaur, have an underground adventure from a bug’s perspective, and beyond. 

  • The Field for All App is a free mobile app that helps families and groups — including visitors with autism and disabilities — plan their visit with resources like exhibition previews, customizable schedules, and a sensory-friendly museum map. Download the iOS or Android app.
  • Learn more about accessibility at the Field Museum.

Shedd Aquarium
Chicago is known for its scenic location on majestic Lake Michigan, which is where you’ll find the waterfront Shedd Aquarium. Inside, guests can get up close and personal with creatures from the nearby lake and far-flung oceans and seas all around the world.

  • The Calm Watersevent series offers veterans and guests with disabilities a chance to experience the beauty of the Shedd in a quiet, limited-capacity environment.
  • Sound-reducing headphones are available at the information desk, the 4-D Theater, and the Rice Amphitheater for free checkout on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Located off the main foyer, the quiet room is available every day. This space may be used as a calming room, prayer room, or place to privately recharge mobility devices.
  • Prepare for your visit with Shedd Aquarium’s sensory-friendly app. Designed for guests with autism and sensory processing disorders in mind, the app helps make Shedd more accessible to all guests. You can download it from iTunes or Google Play.
  • Learn more about accessibility at the Shedd Aquarium.
A girl explores an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry
Museum of Science and Industry; photo by Adam Alexander

Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry is an all-ages wonderland, packed with interactive exhibits and hands-on experiences that will thrill the whole family.

Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago is a treasure trove of old-world masterpieces and modern marvels, all housed inside a stunning historic building that was designed for the 1893 World’s Fair.

Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art, known for groundbreaking exhibitions and performances, is one of the nation’s largest multidisciplinary museums devoted to the art of our time.

  • Sensory-Friendly Mornings at the MCA is a free, sensory-friendly program for neurodiverse visitors of all ages. Preregistered individuals and their families can visit the museum before it opens to the public and explore exhibitions at their own pace. Lobby lights are less intense and a quiet space is available for breaks.
  • TheQuiet Space on the first floor of the museum includes seating, tissues, and locks from the inside for privacy.
  • Learn more about accessibility at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Sensory-friendly attractions

A family at Navy Pier in Chicago
A family at Navy Pier

Lincoln Park Zoo
Discover new worlds inside the historic Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the country’s oldest free zoos. Located along the lakefront, the zoo is home to an array of animals from around the world, from the historic lion house to the friendly penguins.

  • The zoo offers sensory bags with special badges, fidget tools, noise-canceling headphones, weighted lap pads, and more.
  • The zoo offers sensory information on all exhibits and zoo buildings to help visitors identify areas that offer high or low visual and auditory stimulation and plan a more comfortable zoo experience. They also offer tips on the best times to visit.
  • Download the inclusive app on the App Store or Google Play.
  • Learn more about accessibility at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Garfield Park Conservatory
This historic conservatory is one of the largest in the nation. Often referred to as “landscape art under glass,” the Garfield Park Conservatory is a soaring public greenhouse filled with plants from around the world and surrounded by 10 acres of outdoor gardens.

  • A social narrative is available to help guests prepare for their visit.
  • The Sensory Garden is a large, raised bed filled with plants perfect for touching, smelling, and examining closely.
  • Garfield Park Conservatory offers free sensory tours designed for those with vision impairments or sensory processing issues.
  • Learn more about accessibility atGarfield Park Conservatory or contact access@garfieldpark.org for more information.

Navy Pier
There’s something for everyone to love at Navy Pier, Chicago’s iconic lakefront attraction, like taking in the views from atop the giant Ferris wheel or spending the day at the Children’s Museum.

Sensory-friendly theatres and venues

A show by the Blue Man Group in Chicago
Blue Man Group; photo by Lindsey Best

Blue Man Group
Seeing Chicago’s Blue Man Group is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. A unique hybrid of art, music, and comedy, Blue Man Group’s colorful and rhythmic drum performance will take you on an unforgettable journey (make sure to grab a poncho if you sit near the front).

  • Annual sensory-friendly performances feature a more inclusive experience with reduced sound and light levels, earplugs, and a calming environment in the theatre’s lobby. A portion of the proceeds goes toward local autism organizations.

Goodman Theatre
Located in the downtown theatre district, the award-winning Goodman Theatre is Chicago’s oldest and largest not-for-profit theatre. The theatre has won acclaim for its contemporary and classic productions since its founding in 1925.

  • Sensory-friendly/relaxed performances are designed for patrons who have autism or other social, cognitive, and physical challenges that create sensory sensitivities and their families. Accommodations include lower light and sound levels, designated quiet areas, limited crowds, and more.
  • Sensory bags are available during all performances and contain noise-reducing headphones, two fidgets, a notebook and pen, and more.
  • Learn more about accessibility at the Goodman Theatre.

Chicago Children’s Theatre
The Chicago Children’s Theatre is dedicated to creating diverse theatrical productions that inspire curiosity and courage in young people, with an emphasis on inclusion and accessibility.

  • Sensory-friendly performances are tailored specifically for guests on the autism spectrum or with other sensory sensitivities. Production elements such as lighting, sound, and volume are modified and staff are trained to create a welcoming environment.
  • Learn more about accessibility at Chicago Children’s Theatre.

United Center
Home to the legendary Chicago Bulls basketball team and Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, the United Center is an iconic Chicago venue. It also hosts a wide variety of music, comedy, and other events all year long.

  • The United Center is certified as a sensory inclusive venue. United Center staff has been trained on identifying and meeting the needs of guests with sensory needs.
  • Sensory bags that contain noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards, and weighted lap pads are available at every event. A designated quiet room is available in Section 115.
  • Learn more about accessibility at United Center.

League of Chicago Theatres accessible productions
This extensive calendar features upcoming ASL-interpreted performances, audio-described and touch tour performances, open-captioned performances, and autism-friendly performances happening at Chicago area theatres.

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