The certification program has four levels, each requiring increased levels of staff training.
A bronze level certification indicates a ship is ready to accommodate passengers with autism and other developmental disabilities through equal access to onboard services and amenities. Some of the services that must be provided to passengers are sensory related toys, autism friendly modifications to youth activities and autism friendly movies, as well as priority boarding.
The silver, gold and diamond levels focus on increased staff training. Silver level ensures that all youth staff have received basic awareness training in autism. Gold level requires advance training for youth staff and basic training for other shipboard crew. To reach diamond level, all youth staff must go through a hands-on training program.
Royal Caribbean enters the program at the bronze level but is expected to reach silver level certification by year's end.
"Offering cruise lines a standard that includes training for their staff to effectively accommodate the needs of the growing and underserved autism community marks a turning point in the travel and cruise industry," said Mike Sobbell, founder and president of Autism on the Seas.
Sobbell said he expects the program will roll out to other cruise lines in addition to Royal Caribbean.
"We have already introduced our Autism Friendly Certification program to the other major cruise lines. We are currently in the process of following up with them to answer their questions and begin discussions on bringing them into compliance with the standard."
--By Dori Saltzman, News Editor