Absence of People with Disabilities Using Local Parks
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
Forty years later, my mother still resides among those tall cornrows of red-brick buildings, and Kissena Park still flourishes with young and older adults, today mostly Asian immigrants, who take their daily strolls in the morning or perform other types of physical activity. With the exception of a highly competitive 'touch' football game played by an intense group of middle-aged men who fantasized for a few hours each Sunday morning that they were playing for the New York Jets (Yes, there were even referees!), most of the park inhabitants consisted of middle-aged and older men and women jogging, walking, performing tai chi, or using the wooden park benches to stretch their limbs while conducting meditative breathing exercises.
What was noticeably absent among the tall oak trees and gleaming duck pond, however, were the faces of people with disabilities -- young and old -- taking advantage of a rare 50-degree day in late December. Among the dozens of people that I jogged by, I kept searching for that one person who would identify as having a disability. According to the latest statistics, one out of every five people I passed should have had a disability. True, many individuals with disabilities do not present with any visible sign - learning disabled, severe depression, mental illness. But that doesn't account for the remainder of the disability community who could have enjoyed the warmth of the day wheeling through the park, performing a modified version of tai chi from their wheelchairs, or using their canes to stretch their arms, shoulders and back muscles.
The landscapes of most parks and recreation facilities across the country are seemingly void of people with disabilities. Rarely do I come across a person using a wheelchair, cane, or walker taking advantage of what many parks have to offer - lots of greenery, large open spaces, and the opportunity to be part of a community that recognizes the value of being outdoors. A city park is often the lifeblood of a community, serving as an important sanctuary from the rigors of living in tight quarters, replete with traffic, noise, 'sardine-packed' train and bus rides to and from work, and the constant drone of motor vehicles. Open space is a luxury.
As I prepare to go for my morning jog 1,000 miles away from New York City in my hometown of DeKalb, Illinois, the same scenario will occur - lots of friendly faces and warm greetings from other physically active members of the community. But what will be missing once again are the faces of people with disabilities, wheeling through the park, playing golf, using the par course or hand cycling. The many barriers that people with disabilities are often confronted with when trying to access parks and other recreation facilities may be the primary reason for not engaging in one of life's greatest pleasures. As local communities initiate projects to make buildings and other facilities barrier-free, let us not forget that parks and other outdoor recreation facilities must also become more accessible to people with disabilities.