Community Spotlight: Seattle Children's PlayGarden
By: Jessica Madrigal
I believe that parents and children agree that it would be nice to visit the local playground without having to worry that it may not have all of the accessible features necessary for people of ALL abilities. One step beyond just finding it accessible would be to find that the facility also offered inclusive programs and events. Can you imagine a world where parents and children don't have to worry about safe smooth surfacing, accessible swings, or calling ahead to find out if their child's wheelchair can even access a weekend event ? I can!
As a Master's degree student in the University of Illinois at Chicago's Disability and Human Development Department, I set a goal to complete the literature review for my thesis this past summer. I knew that I wanted to conduct my thesis research on accessible playgrounds, but I wasn't sure where to start or on which area to focus. To get my thesis idea going, I contacted various parks and recreation departments, municipalities, and city councils across the country to find out where accessible playgrounds are located, or if they even exist. Not knowing where to begin my search, I used Google to explore 25 major cities in the United States. After what seemed like 400 phone calls and emails, I am excited to share some of what I found.
Although some cities are lacking in the area of inclusive and accessible playgrounds, many cities are booming with passionate people and community organizations that want to make a difference in the lives of the children residing in their town. I came across numerous sites where inclusive and accessible playgrounds had either been built or were in the planning or building process. There is one site in particular that I would like to highlight: the Children's PlayGarden in Seattle, Washington. The Seattle Children's PlayGarden is a nonprofit organization providing children of all abilities full access to outdoor recreation space and offering inclusive programs that encourage every child's potential.
The PlayGarden initiative was formed in 2002, became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in July 2003, and is led by a volunteer board of directors. Construction of the PlayGarden and other associated facilities began in 2004 and will be completed in phases by summer 2009. In the meantime, the PlayGarden has held summer programs since 2006 and will have programming year-round once construction is finished. All programs integrate children with and without disabilities, and are often multi-age to maximize the opportunity for siblings and friends to attend together.
Simply looking through the PlayGarden's website at http://childrensplaygarden.org/index.php, I was in awe of the amount of devotion that the group has put into this venture. Having been featured in numerous newspaper articles, hosting visits from Senators and other prominent figures and genuinely valuing the input of community members, families, and children of all abilities, the Seattle PlayGarden is definitely a gem worth checking out.
Current research shows that children with physical limitations or developmental delays are largely excluded from participation in local outdoor activity areas, especially playgrounds. Inclusive playgrounds give all parents the option of enjoyable yet safe and supportive outdoor learning experiences for their children. The PlayGarden and other sites like it offer options for families that allow everyone – children, parents and grandparents – to use the playground regardless of their ability level.