Could you imagine living in a city with no public playgrounds for children to play on? Where would kids play and interact with each other? Where will they cultivate their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development with their peers?
This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of families with disabilities across our nation. Most cities do not have an inclusive playground that provides interactive play for all individuals. Sure playgrounds meet ADA requirements but that just provides a couple of items that might or might not work for that disabled individuals needs. Not very fun or exciting, right?
Sometimes even ADA playgrounds, with their best intentions, fail to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. This happened to five-year-old Brooks, a young child whose mom just wanted him to feel the joy of swinging.
Brook’s life is very different than yours and mine. He was born with a congenital neurological disorder, Sturge-Weber Syndrome. Brooks lives with severe continuous seizures day after day. They deprive his body of oxygen it needs and has affected his nervous system to the point that Brooks lacks the trunk support to hold himself up or move his limbs…..All of this at age five.
His mom, Aimee, decided one day to do something special for Brooks. She wanted him to feel what it is like to swing, since movement is one of his favorite sensations. Aimee looked up which public playground had a zero gravity swing in her city, San Antonio, and began the overwhelming process of gathering all of the things Brooks needs for his care and to literally sustain his life.
The amount of things Aimee has to bring for Brooks is probably equivalent to a mom with new born triplets who also has two year old twins. This is the life for many families with disabilities. Aimee picks up her dad on the way to Brackenridge Park because who can handle stuff for new born triplets, two year old twins, and your actual child who needs to be pushed in a wheel chair, alone?
The family rolls up to Brackenridge Park and Aimee is feeling like a Rockstar mom! It can be very difficult for some families with disabilities to get out of the house and Aimee got Brooks out! Not only that, he is about to experience fun movement…swinging. A different kind of movement than what he is used to. She is rocking this!!
Aimee parks her car. The family begins to wonder around, while carrying all of Brooks equipment, self-care items, and life sustaining things, in search of the zero-gravity swing. The only type of swing her child can use. They walked and they walked and they walked.
Aimee never found the zero gravity swing. After twenty minutes and a river of tears they left the park. There was not one play item that Brooks could use or enjoy.
“I just want what time I have with Brooks to be happy.”
That experience crushed Aimee. She felt like a failure and that she let Brooks down. This also discouraged her from wanting to try again at another city park. After all, it’s not easy getting around and managing all the stuff needed for newborn triplets and two year old twins. Life is stressful enough with ordinary day to day needs.
Brooks is why every community needs a public inclusive playground. Just because a play item is listed on a park website does not mean that it is still there or it could be broken, in need of repair. However, if Aimee’s town had an inclusive public playground she would know she could always take her son to that playground for equipment designed for all families, even Brooks.
Brooks quest for a swing is not over. Mitchell’s Landing at Classen-Steubing Ranch Park will be San Antonio’s first public inclusive playground. In just over a year, Brooks will be able to ride a zip-line in a zero-gravity seat. Aimee can sit with Brooks on an inclusive merry-go-round. Actually take her son on a play structure and go down a slide with him. Brooks will have access to an inclusive pirate ship that he will be able to commandeer and enjoy imaginative play with other children. Brooks will be able to swing.
Inclusive playgrounds can be life-changing for families. They improve the quality of life for individuals who need them. Change starts with awareness. Now that you are aware, is your community in need?
Author, April Chang