Thursday, August 29, 2013

New accessible playgrounds for kids with special needs

Question: How many parents does it take to build an accessible playground for kids with special needs?

Answer: Two—or even just one—for starters. At least that's the trend. This week NPR ran a great story about Jonny and Melissa Fisher of Pocatello, Idaho, who built Brooklyn's Playground. It's named after their 7-year-old with spina bifida. Several years ago, her father put her in a regular swing at a playground; she flew out of it and hit their head, which is when the Fishers decided to build a playground for her.

They set about raising money, helped by a local civic group—from grants, bake and garage sales and donations. They raked in $580,000. As NPR reports, 3000 people showed up to build it, finishing in a week. Now, a California mom is doing the same for the sake of her daughter with spina bifida; so far, she's raised $400,000, NPR reports.

LOVE it. Our neighborhood doesn't have accessible playgrounds so Dave and I are basically Max's adaptive equipment, although hopefully that situation will change in upcoming years. Last year, updated Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design went into effect for public recreational areas including playgrounds. Any new construction or playgrounds getting renovated must comply. Sadly, the reality of shrinking local budgets is another story—ditto for cities' actual compliance (for more on that, see part 2 of NPR producer Robert Benincasa's investigation, New Accessible Playground Rules May Not Go Far Enough).

Meanwhile, parents are stepping up to the plate (and the swing and the slide) to work with nonprofits on building inclusive playgrounds (see resources below). In the near future, 26 very special universally accessible playgrounds will be completed. Built by The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, they'll honor the children and educators who died at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. So far, seven have opened, and two more are set to be built in September. Dedicated in June in Westport, CT: a playground for Dylan Hockley, who had autism and liked to flap his arms and pretend he was a butterfly. There's lots of purple, his favorite color—and butterfly designs.

To find accessible playgrounds near you:

• Playgrounds For Everyone is NPR's brand new searchable site/app; users are encouraged to list any accessible playgrounds they know of that are not included.

• Accessible Playgrounds has lists of sites by state in the U.S. and provinces in Canada.

For info and guidance on building accessible playgrounds:

• Boundless Playgrounds is a nonprofit that works with communities to develop accessible playgrounds; it's already helped build 200 in the United States and Canada.

• Shane's Inspiration, started by parents who lost their son to spinal muscular atorphy, has developed more than 40 universally accessible playground projects throughout Southern Calfironia and as far away as Sri Lanka, and offers consulting.

• Kaboom, a nonprofit dedicated to creating playspaces through the participation of leadership communities, has an accessibility section with guidance on planning an inclusive space in a community.

• Unlimited Play builds universally accessible playgrounds in Missouri.

Last, this site has an extensive list of playground equipment grants and fundraising resources.

Image: Flickr/Mimi Cummins


  1. Check this out:

    Awesome. (And make me cry.)

    1. We play here all the time! It's a great place!

  2. Glad to hear some people are being the change they want to see. We don't have much in the way of accessible playgrounds here in South Africa.

  3. we are blessed to live within 30mins of a wonderful park i volunteered in helping to build. if anyone is in the north texas area check it out! -Genevie

  4. The city I live in is slowly turning all the playgrounds into accessible ones. Not all are wheelchair friendly but most have wide openings and hand rails. Sarah loves them and I worry way less about her.

  5. See also the Nashua Legacy Playground project.

  6. I'm glad to see these playgrounds are being built, and I hope schools will start having these playgrounds on their property! Whenever I've worked in schools, there have always been kids with wheelchairs who can only wheel around on the blacktop (or, if they can't wheel their own chairs, they have to just sit there) during recess. It's boring for them, and it doesn't help them at all with building social skills or feeling like they fit in!

  7. Sounds like its all heading in the right direction. We have about 6 playgrounds within a 3km radius to us and the newest ones all have a wheelchair swing, a supportive harnessed swing and boardwalks around the grounds. Some have little fairy houses with accessible musical instruments too. Oh and they all have the big nest swing that most can access too.( we are in melbourne, Australia )

  8. These playgrounds are so important! They are just taking off here in Australia, too. Our local park has a wheelchair swing. Hopefully, all parks will have them very soon.

  9. This is a cool thing for kids that use adaptive devices. The world is awesome.


Thanks for sharing!

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