Parents and Private Organizations Bridge Funding Gap for Playgrounds for Special-Needs Children

Children with special needs and their advocates have made significant progress in their efforts to ensure that all children are afforded the opportunity to learn and thrive regardless of their abilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was an important milestone in this regard.

One area in which there is still work to be done is in the way children with special needs are enabled to play with their peers. Specifically, playgrounds are often completely impractical for children with physical disabilities. Their ground surfaces may be impossible for wheelchairs to roll over, and their play areas may not have activities appropriate for children lacking in upper-body mobility, strength, and balance.

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Last year, accessibility standards for playgrounds were made mandatory under the ADA so that children of differing abilities could play alongside each other. They include rules on the types of equipment, designs, and materials used in public playgrounds. But those inclusive standards can add significantly to the cost of building playgrounds.

A recent NPR report told the story of a family in Pocatello, Idaho, that led a fundraising effort to build a community playground that was accessible and fun for kids of all ability levels. It is Brooklyn’s Playground, named after the family’s wheelchair-bound seven-year-old daughter. Its wide ramps and smooth rubber ground coverings allow wheelchairs to reach all areas, and its swings have back support for children with upper-body disorders.

At 15,000 square feet and a cost of just over half a million dollars, most municipalities could not afford to build such a playground, but Brooklyn’s family spent eight months soliciting donations and organizing bake sales to make it happen.

When advocates and families work together to give special-needs children every possible opportunity, the entire community benefits.

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