I went to an accessible playground with my son for the first time when he was about 5-years-old. Back then, playgrounds just made me sad. There was nothing for my son, Samuel, to do and I’d have to leave him off to the side while I chased his 2-year-old sister. I recall getting him stuck in a toddler swing and being extremely disappointed with the lack of play options for him.
Since my son was young, I’ve made it my mission to improve the playground for him and for others with disabilities. My partnership with Playworld Systems will help to bring accessible playgrounds to communities across the country. With their help, I’m able to make a demonstrable impact on a much greater scale.
What drives my work is my desire to enhance the play experience for everyone at the playground. I often refer to an experience with Samuel many years ago. One day we went to the playground and discovered ramps up to the top of the playground structure. I was beyond excited. He hadn’t been to the top of structure before. I wheeled him up. Then thought to myself, “ok what next?” I realized I had three choices once we got up there—he could go down the slide, across a swaying bridge or turn around and go back down. Going down the slide didn’t work because he would be at the bottom and the wheelchair and I would be at the top. I looked at the bridge. That didn’t look very safe for a child in a wheelchair and there would be nothing else for him to do once we crossed the bridge. So we turned around and rolled back down.
At the bottom, was a little store made out of play panels. Samuel’s sister sat on one side and Samuel on the other. She had tons of fun serving Samuel pretend food. There was also a water feature nearby and when Samuel felt the spraying water, he laughed (not something I heard often when we went to the playground). A sand area provided an accessible digger and Samuel enjoyed himself. Our day at the playground was a success.
What that experience taught me was we must have activities for children in wheelchairs at the top of play structures. It also made me realize there is immense value in ground-level play activities — play panels, sand and water. The ground-level play activity changed our visit to be one where everyone had the opportunity to play and no one sat on the sidelines.
While my son is now a teenager (age 17), I’m a bit disheartened to say that not much has changed in accessible playground design over the last 12 years. Before I had to accept what I was given. But not anymore, I’m actively engaged in making a difference for children like my son. I’m energized and excited by the possibilities from my partnership with Playworld Systems. I look forward to sharing with you my experiences through monthly blog entries.
Now you’ve heard about some of my fond and not so fond memories from the playground. What are your memories of going to the playground with your children?