Some say “necessity is the mother of all inventions,” that became evident to me one spring day in early 1996 when I brought my then 4 year old and 7 year old daughters to play at a local park. We were very excited to finally get out of the house from the winter doldrums and get some fresh air at the playground. My older daughter was thrilled to have a place to run around and I was just thrilled to get outside after winter.
When we got to the playground it was the usual ritual of letting my older daughter out of the car and having her bolt like lightening to the playground area, and for me, not so fast. I had to lift the wheelchair out of the back of the station wagon and then put my 4 year old daughter into it. When that 5 minute ordeal was over, we were off but almost immediately we were stopped by a timber barricade which seemed to be placed there to keep in mulch but very obviously was a problem for us. So, as usual supermom that I am, picked up both the wheelchair and my daughter over the timbers and then thought we were off. But again, not so easy to push a wheelchair over mulch, think of trying to drive over sand; it’s not so easy, is it?
We then caught up with my older daughter who was running from each piece of equipment to the next. When I finally told her to “hold up.” She exclaimed she wanted us to “come up” on the equipment. Come up? Now how exactly was that supposed to happen? Oh, I know the wheelchair was supposed to sprout wings. Well, that is what it would have taken to get her up on the equipment. And let’s say that actually could have happened, then what? Sit up there and watch from the tower while her sister ran around and around. This was no fun!
So my younger daughter and I went over to a seating area where I sat and we both watched my older daughter run around. At one point my older daughter came over to us a little frustrated but then realized when she came over to us that my younger daughter had a tear dripping down her face. That was it! That was the moment I went from a stay at home mom to a mom on a mission! Why was there not anything my children could do together? Why was there not anything I could do with my younger daughter while my older daughter played? This was going to change, it had to!
I went home and started drawing (coming from a design background, drawing was second nature to me) and visualizing what a perfect playground would look like. When my husband came home I told him about that days adventures and how I was now out to change the world. I had a dream; a goal- “to build a unique park where all children could play together with or without disabilities.” A park where through playing, the concepts would help all children socially, and cognitively, as well as physically. Equally as important, a place for children with disabilities to play with their own siblings and peers.
The ideas and visions of this playground resulted in the development of a theme-play park. Often a playground is considered strictly physical. Although, when the physical play is mastered, the appeal of the playground can lead to boredom. Theme-play offers a challenge to the child’s imagination and encourages children to play for extended periods of time.
My dream playground encompassed a Transportation Area, Pirate Ship, Frontier Village, Castle, Dinosaurs, and Main Street themes. In the design, accessibility was ensured through the implementation of the ADA requirements, CPSC and ASTM guidelines; those are playground rules.
By combining all of these elements in the design and equipment, my dream would create the best playground for all children to play!
That was the day I put on my “big girl pants” and “hard hat” and formed a non profit organization which would come to be known through out the country as Hadley’s Park. In 1999 after three years of lobbying and fundraising I raised the needed one million dollars to build my dream park which has gained much national recognition for its creativity and play-ability for ALL children.
Do you have any “fully” inclusive playgrounds near you? I’d love to hear about them!
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