There’s More to These Playgrounds Than Meets The Eye

By Ronna Mandel

At Fairmount Park in Riverside, play panels are at wheelchair height and accessible to all. PHOTO BY MIKE BIGALKE/LANDSCAPE STRUCTURES

At Fairmount Park in Riverside, play panels are at wheelchair height and accessible to all. PHOTO BY MIKE BIGALKE/LANDSCAPE STRUCTURES

When you look at a playground, you might see swings or a jungle gym, but children with disabilities see a fun place that’s inaccessible, excluding them from opportunities to play.

Unless, of course, they are visiting one of Shane’s Inspiration’s universally accessible playgrounds, created to bring together children – with disabilities and without – through play. You can find them as far away as Russia, Israel and Ecuador and as nearby as Chatsworth, Griffith Park and Pasadena.

What makes these inclusive playgrounds different? When children in wheelchairs or those with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, visual or hearing impairments visit one of these playgrounds, they find an environment that feels as welcoming to them as it would to any other child. Each playground is designed to ensure that it is “nuanced with all the play needs of a disabled child, as well as being challenging, because the playgrounds are for kids of all abilities,” says Tiffany Harris, co-founder of Shane’s Inspiration, a nonprofit that promotes accessible play. In fact, they’re so well-equipped, many Occupational Therapists conduct their sessions at these playgrounds rather than in the confines of an office.

Kids can walk or roll through the water features at Riverside’s Fairmount Park accessible play area. PHOTO BY MIKE BIGALKE/LANDSCAPE STRUCTURES

Kids can walk or roll through the water features at Riverside’s Fairmount Park accessible play area. PHOTO BY MIKE BIGALKE/LANDSCAPE STRUCTURES

Disabled children require physical exercise, sensory stimulation, and collaborative play as much as their typically-abled peers. Shane’s Inspiration play areas are designed to provide these elements. To build fine motor skills, there are panels with marble mazes or patterns to trace with a finger. For gross motor skills there are log steps and interconnecting ramps to explore. Chimes and Ring-a-Bell panels provide auditory benefits as do Talking Tubes. The ZipKrooz Assisted zip line promotes balance and cooperative play as well as adding the “wee!” factor. And for kids seeking to challenge their balance skills, there are self-spinning stools and Sway Fun, a glider that attracts kids of every age with benches, room for two wheelchairs, a table and guaranteed good time.

At Reese’s Retreat at Brookside Park in Pasadena, which has a pirate theme, wide ramps wend around the park and lead up to the pirate ship play structure. The concrete walkways resemble wooden planks, a “sea serpent” slithers through the sandbox, the ship’s helm is at wheelchair height and dual-access treasure chest tactile zones include push-play and water features.

The swings have high backs, making them ideal for kids lacking upper-body strength and those with autism, who find comfort in a more enclosed space. Transfer decks and handrails allow a child to lift himself or herself from a wheelchair and onto a platform to get onto the slide. Play equipment close to ramps and paths brings typically-abled children and those with special needs together. The play space also incorporates quiet areas for children with sensory issues and shade for children whose medications make it important for them to stay out of the sun.

Universally accessible playgrounds provide disabled children, their family and friends with places to connect outside of the home, and opportunities to play together and flourish. They benefit entire communities by helping to break down barriers between disabled and able-bodied children. And they give kids with special needs a place that lets them play right along with everyone else. As one child in a Shane’s Inspiration video says about the playgrounds, “It’s where I feel like me.”

Learn more at www.shanesinspiration.org.

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