Together Accessing Parks
Going to the park for most families and children is a typical part of being a family. It is an invaluable time to be with friends and siblings in an unstructured safe environment. For children with disabilities however, going to the park can be a source of pain instead of pleasure. Wheelchairs become stuck in sand; wood chips impair the unsteady gait of children with muscular conditions; slides are not reachable; balance beams are out of the question and climbing bars are too high. Children with disabilities are left on the sidelines to watch.
A few years ago several people, including parents of children with disabilities, adults with disabilities and representatives of agencies serving children with disabilities met with the Director of the Department of Streets and Parks of Williamsport. At this meeting, the group was told that the city's request for matching funds to renovate Memorial Park, Williamsport's largest recreational area, had not been successful. This news dashed the group's hopes for a fully accessible program that they had envisioned for months. Williamsport did not have a park that met current safety and accessibility standards.
The group decided to organize to advocate for accessible parks. They named their group "Together Accessing Parks"(TAP). They put themselves in a position to be a strong advocate for accessible parks by doing their homework concerning standards, equipment and surfaces.
TAP applied for a small collective advocacy grant ($8,500) from the Council to help them get better organized, expand their membership and implement their advocacy plan. Their approach included: meeting with city Streets and Park Department officials, city engineer and architect and City Council; consulting with playground manufacturers; informing the community about accessibility; obtaining media coverage of their events; and obtaining funding from local and national foundations, as well as local donations and fund raisers.
The group's goal was to promote the adoption and implementation of park designs that offer all children the opportunity to play and that meet or exceed all current safety and accessibility standards. TAP raised $77,000 as part of a $200,000+ budget and their goal was achieved with the dedication of a new playground by the mayor of Williamsport. The city purchased play structure equipment that was recommended by the group. "The playground is beautiful and is used by all kids in this part of Williamsport," stated Shannon Mudrick of the Special Kids Network.
"My son Kyle, age 10 with Down syndrome had never been on a slide before the playground opened. Now it's nearly impossible to get him off the slides. It is a dream come true for me to be able to take my kids to the playground and be able to watch them interact with all the other children," stated Nancy Regopoulos, Chairperson of TAP and the parent who initially approached The Special Kids Network with the idea.
The playground is the first in Pennsylvania to receive the designation of a "Boundless Playground" and is a model for other groups and communities. This designation requires that at least 70% of the equipment be accessible to all children using their typical means of ambulation (wheelchair, walker, braces, etc.). The playground has received constant use whenever weather permits (and even sometimes when it doesn't)! TAP has received telephone calls from all over the state and as far away as Georgia from groups who want to visit and to find out how this goal was accomplished. The Director of Streets and Parks recently asked TAP about becoming active in the renovation of another city playground. "It looks like we're far from finished, but the smiles on the faces of the children using the playground make it a very rewarding task," stated Nancy Regopoulos.
Prepared for PA Parents and Caregivers Resource Network by George Taylor 1-800-684-3695