Children are flocking to the new playground at Central Park that was designed to allow disabled children to play with their peers.
A parent who started the movement to build an accessible playground was moved nearly to tears when she saw how eagerly the playground was embraced by children without disabilities.
“My daughter would have loved to have a playground,” said Sabrina Holiday-Harder, whose daughter died before the playground was built. “She would say, ‘Let’s go over there and play with those kids.’ She was developmentally disabled, but she had the same wishes and desires to play with other children.”
This week, Holiday-Harder took pictures of children without handicaps playing on the equipment.
“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “The equipment is attractive to any child. I think all the necessary elements are there to bring the children together.”
Until it was built, children in wheelchairs had to sit on the sidelines while their friends raced up and down ladders and stairs. The sandy ground bogged down their wheels, so they couldn’t even get to the bottom of the one ramp at the playground.
Even the swings were just out of reach. Children who couldn’t hold themselves upright could only use the baby swings, and once they outgrew them, all that was left to do was watch everyone else have fun.
The plight led three parents to raise money for a playground where their daughters could play with their non-disabled peers. They were not able to raise enough money for even one piece of accessible equipment, but the city took over the project and got $1 million in grants last year. Unfortunately, the children of all three parents died before the playground was built.
But their idea seems to have been wildly successful.
The soft ground and inventive toys are so enticing that children began playing at the park before the playground was officially complete. This week, workers finally finished their last task as hordes of children climbed on the equipment nearby.
The playground will be formally opened in the spring, but children are now welcome to enjoy it, Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said. He had hoped to have it open before autumn, but back-ordered parts delayed construction.
So far, few if any disabled children have ventured to the playground. But when they get there, they’ll find plenty of company.
Despite the cool temperatures, more than two dozen children were playing at the former Tiny Tot Land after school on Friday. Even older children abandoned their swings and slides across the street for the better prospects at the youngsters’ playground.
“I like the bulldozer thing,” said Maddie Kavanaugh-Lynch, 7, as she manipulated levers to dig a hole in a sand box. “It’s kind of like being in a real one.”
Other children banged on drums in the music corner and scaled the climbing wall. Some came all the way from Colonie to play at the unusual park.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said parent Jennifer Sambets.
Her 7-year-old daughter Renee climbed to the very top of the 5-foot-tall climbing wall, but Sambets wasn’t worried about Renee’s safety.
“The ground — that’s another cool thing — it’s very soft,” she said.
The pavement feels squishy, yet is firm and water-resistant. It was one of the most expensive and time-consuming parts of the entire project, but Olsen insisted on it so that disabled children would be able to reach every part of the playground.
Parents said they loved the surfacing even more than the unusual toys.
“The other ground, the stones were magnets for putting in their mouth or their shoes,” said Sandra Schaefer.
Parent Glenda Quail added. “It’s like child-proof concrete. I feel very safe. It’s awesome.”
Children quickly learned that falling doesn’t hurt very much. One boy climbed up the wall and then every other wall on the entire playground, including the yellow railing around a platform perched 4 feet above the ground.
When his mother tried to stop him, saying the railing wasn’t meant to be climbed on, he pointed to a nearby sign describing the philosophy of the accessible playground.
“It says no limits!” he yelled, and triumphantly returned to his slippery ascent.
Children said they loved the challenges offered by the playground, which were designed to provide fun physical therapy for children with disabilities.
They practiced spinning in the air while dangling from a wheel and faced their fears again and again at the climbing wall.
“It’s really hard to climb it,” said Kayleigh Austin, 8. “I like it a lot. I try it every time I come. It’s always fun to keep trying.”
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Categories: Schenectady County