Our Mission

PAL Experiences is a social enterprise on a mission to bring individuals of all abilities out into our communities. Just as wheel chair ramps and elevators enabled those with mobility challenges to more easily travel, visit entertainment venues, attend sporting events, and go shopping, we are developing a unique set of technology-based tools that open our communities to folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We believe this type of inclusion, which makes it easier for a diverse spectrum of thinkers and communicators to participate in activities many of us take for granted, can be socially and economically transformative.

Our audience

This is a large, growing portion of our society. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicates that 15 percent of all children in the U.S. have a developmental disability. Six thousand American babies are born with Down syndrome each year, one in 68 are on the autism spectrum, and 6.4 million children between the ages of four and 17 have ADHD.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, nearly 20 percent of Americans self-reported as having a disability. Of those, 71 percent have a so-called “invisible” disability. When accounting for immediate family members of those individuals, the result shows that more than half of all Americans either have or are directly related to someone with a disability.

The next level of accessibility

We are seeing that the next level of accessibility – true inclusion – allows individuals to shed labels and diagnoses. While our tools were initially designed using evidence-based best practices to support people on the autism spectrum, we’ve seen the benefits apply to those with ADHD, anxiety, sensory processing disorder, and even nervous parents and their children. Because of this, we don’t specify for whom our tools can be used. They can assist anyone who wants to have a better understanding of what to expect, how to prepare, where to go, how to get help, and where to take a break if necessary. This is the next level of accessibility, where inclusion benefits everyone.

Meet the Founder

Melanie Isaacs

Melanie Isaacs was getting her Master’s in Biology at Western Illinois University when one interaction on a train changed her life. She was returning to her Chicago apartment after a class at the Shedd Aquarium when a family noticed her aquarium shirt and asked if she worked there. Melanie and the parents talked about beluga whales and sea turtles, and when she noticed their young son getting excited, she asked if he had ever been to the aquarium. His parents quickly answered no. They would never go. The young boy had autism and the aquarium was just too overwhelming for them.

Brian and Billy

When Melanie got off the train, she thought back to when she was a young girl riding on her Uncle Brian’s wheel chair. Both of her uncles – Brian and Billy – had Muscular Dystrophy. Melanie remembered the constant accessibility challenges her uncles endured, and realized that although many great strides had been made to accommodate folks with physical disabilities like Billy and Brian, those accommodations didn’t necessarily help the boy on the train.

Back to the Shedd

The next day, she contacted a local school for kids with autism and put together a plan for them to visit the aquarium. She worked with their teachers to help the students prepare for the experience, developed tools to aid in communication, and worked with the aquarium to offer support during the visit. Some of those students had been to the Shedd Aquarium before, but none had enjoyed a truly positive experience. This time, with just a few simple tools and a little extra support, the students had a blast. Every single one wanted to return to the aquarium.

Fast forward

Melanie has continued testing and refining those tools over the past six years, and is excited about the future of PAL. She believes these programs can be as transformative to society as wheel chair ramps were for millions of Americans like Uncle Billy and Uncle Brian. She thinks often about the boy on the train, and when asked why she has devoted her career to this purpose, she smiles and responds as a marine biologist would, “Because everyone should get to go to the aquarium.”

Our Valuable Board Members

Hector Gutierrez
Hector GutierrezManagement Executive & Entreprenuer
Dr. Tom Holub
Dr. Tom HolubProfessor at Edgewood College
Adam Isaacs
Adam IsaacsChairman of the Board
Stacey Harris
Stacey HarrisFounder of Social Evolution
Marc Isaacs
Marc IsaacsPresident & CEO, Sun Orchard
Dr. Laurie Sperry
Dr. Laurie SperryProfessor at Yale University
Doug Varsano
Doug VarsanoDirector of Sales & Marketing at Phoenix Marriott Tempe at the Buttes
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PAL Experiences is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

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melanie@palexperiences.org