It was an amazing experience. At first, I was afraid that no one would RSVP, but then the phone started to ring. In the end I had to create a waiting list. The thing is – families who are raising children with a disability rarely get invited as “a family” to go anywhere. Sure, there may be a program for your child with a disability or the activities of another child, but nothing for everyone. So to get an invite for an all-inclusive party was extremely exciting.
Our event took place on a cold and rainy day in Westerville’s brand new universally-designed playground in Millstone Creek Park. Fortunately, the inclement weather didn’t impact attendance. Not only did we have a fantastic turnout, guests stayed the entire four hours. In attendance were children and adults with all different disabilities — children with Spinia Bifida, CP, Down syndrome, Autism and developmental delays. A group of adults with Down syndrome came to help pass out food and then stayed and played right alongside the rest of the children and adults.
At the Millstone Creek playground, there is a huge play structure. In a wheelchair you can go up the ramps all the way to nine feet and slide down. In fact, it’s one of the highest playground ramps in the country. Yet, at one point, I looked around and realized no one was on the play structure, ramps, slides, or on the climbers. They were all on the play equipment on the ground. I realized that the equipment on the ground allowed them to easily play with each other. At one point there were four people on one of the twisters. It is designed for one person, but four people were on it figuring out how to make it go faster and faster. Two people were on a Spring Rider and another two where on the Gryo Twister, which looks like a pogo stick.
Everyone played on the NEOS 360, which in my opinion is the most inclusive piece of play equipment available. During the Play Day there were a group of children playing on NEOS when they realized a girl in the wheelchair wasn’t playing. They asked her mother, “Can Angela come and play with us?” You have no idea unless you are a parent of a child with a disability how incredible it is to hear those precious words. For that mother, it might have been the first time in Angela’s 14 years she‘s heard that. Angela went to join in the fun with the sound and blinking lights. She couldn’t really play the games, but she sat in the middle of the circle and all of the kids had to run around her to push the buttons. She became a part of the game. Her laughter echoed throughout the playground and put a smile on all our faces.
This inclusive play day is one that will stay with me for a very long time and it changed my way of thinking about playgrounds. What is your most memorable moment from the playground?