Long Beach to Potentially Become an Autism-Certified City

Daniel Pineda
Autistic child with parent.

In 2019, the tourism information center Visit Mesa had been working on a year-long project to help tailor and accommodate travel experiences for individuals with autism and their families. The project would result in the city of Mesa, Arizona becoming the first ever Autism-Certified City (ACC) in the United States.

An ACC is a designation awarded by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) where key stakeholders including healthcare, education, local government, hospitality, leisure and corporate members, are trained and certified to better serve individuals with autism and other cognitive disorders.

According to the IBCCES’s website, the purpose of this designation is to help build communities across the country that are inclusive and accessible to all people – especially for those on the spectrum. And now, the city of Long Beach is looking to become the next ACC.

“In recent years Long Beach has been incredibly focused on ensuring our city is welcoming to and accessible for all residents,” Suzie Price, a Long Beach councilwoman said in a statement. “However, we need to take another big step toward becoming a city where everyone can thrive and feel welcomed by becoming an Autism Certified City.”

Many business owners and organizations have been working across Long Beach to make this goal a reality. One of whom is Sumer Temple, the owner of Don Temple Storage and an advocate for a movement pushing for the city to become certified by the IBCCES.

Temple described to the Beachcomber how her movement was inspired by the work done in Mesa and how she wanted Long Beach to become the next ACC.

“I heard about Mesa, Arizona becoming autism-certified and I did some research on the organization [The IBCCES],” Temple said. “Then I started looking at Long Beach and how we could incorporate this ourselves.”

Temple continued: “I’ve started reaching out to organizations in Long Beach to see if there was any similar interest, as well as reaching out to council members and other individuals, and just started building momentum towards it.”

To Sumer Temple, having the city of Long Beach become autism-certified is important for those on the spectrum to feel included in the community.

“It’s important for Long Beach to create environments to welcome people in the spectrum,” Temple said.

Temple speaks from her own experience and knowledge, as well. In her personal life, Temple has a son, a nine-year-old boy named Lucas, who has been diagnosed with autism. She describes how being a parent for a child with autism has its own unique challenges that many don’t often see.

“I know how difficult it is to do things, even simple things, like going out to dinner or the movies,” Temple said. “It’s not easy to go out to someplace and something will trigger your child into a meltdown.”

Temple continued: “And you try your best to handle the situation, and meanwhile you can feel around you all the stares from other people.”

According to data collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism, as stated by the National Institute of Mental Health, is often characterized by:

  • Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others.
  • Repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities.
  • Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life.
  • Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life.

According to Meredith Tekin, the president at IBCCES, “Those numbers are conservative as many individuals are not diagnosed until much later in life or may be overlooked or underserved by healthcare resources.”

Tekin continued: “This is a huge portion of the population that typically is underserved or not served at all, and may have faced stigmas or been misunderstood in the past – the certification process and supports IBCCES provides can help improve the quality of life for community members as well as ensure visitors to destinations have their needs met and feel welcomed.”

This is something that Sumer Temple agrees with, when it comes to the stigma and misunderstanding of autism. And she hopes to bring awareness to that through her movement.

“There’s a lack of awareness, acceptance and understanding,” Temple said. “And that’s something I hope to fix.”

Temple also shared what motivates her to make Long Beach a more inclusive city, is listening to the stories of those who live with autism and how it affects their daily lives.

“I’m involved with a group called LBC Hero Squad, a non-profit organization and working with the parents and their children and just listening to them, sharing our stories of what we go through just drives me to make Long Beach become more inclusive for everybody.”

Temple isn’t the only one who’s working hard to make Long Beach an ACC, either. The Beachcomber got in contact with Ryan Ashton, the vice president of development at the Aquarium of the Pacific, as well as a supporter of Sumer Temple’s movement, to get a better understanding of what the AOP has done to become more inclusive.

“Recently we [the aquarium] have partnered with an organization called KultureCity, which has been helping us identify opportunities where we can be more inclusive. Especially for those that need accessibility,” Ashton said.

Ashton also mentioned how the AOP has been offering special events for individuals with autism and their families to visit the aquarium for a special tour, before the aquarium opens to the general public.

To Ashton, Long Beach becoming an ACC would help set an example on providing accessibility to those who need it.

“I think it would mean Long Beach continues to be a leader when it comes to providing accessibility and resources to those on the spectrum, as we continue to identify the needs of our people,” Ashton said.

The Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) had also been working and looking into Long Beach potentially becoming an ACC. The Beachcomber reached out to the CVB, to which they issued the following statement:

“The Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau is speaking with partners and with IBCCES to explore the possibility of Long Beach becoming an Autism Certified destination. These discussions are still in early phases and we look forward to working with our community partners as they progress.”

Suzie Price of the Long Beach City Council also shared details on the councils’ efforts to make the city inclusive and accessible to all. These efforts, according to Price, include the development of all-abilities playgrounds, including translation and hearing loop services at council meetings and placing access mats on the beaches of Long Beach.

“These are just a few ways Long Beach has led the way to being a city for everyone, but ensuring we are a city who understands autism and the unique needs of autistic residents and visitors would be a huge step toward Long Beach being a city that is welcoming and accommodating to everyone,” Price said.

Suzie Price will be introducing the item of Long Beach becoming an ACC to the City Council, in the coming weeks, according to her statement. An exact date, however, has not been confirmed.

For more information about the IBCCES’s autism certification, you can visit their official website at https://ibcces.org/autism_certified_city/


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