An international company that tests the accesibility and safety of surface materials under playgrounds is expected to release new guidelines this week.
The measures that the American Society for Testing and Materials come up with are then referenced by the Access Board, which in turn sets the standards for Americans With Disability Act compliance, said Bill Botten, the training coordinator at the U.S. Access Board.
Botten’s specialty is looking at issues surrounding recreational facilities and outdoor spaces. Botten said the standards the Access Board creates then help communities build accessible play areas.
But those are just the minimum, he said.
“You can meet the accessibility requirements in the federal law–that’s easy,” Botten said.
However, Botten, who uses a wheelchair, said being accessible doesn’t necessarily mean being inclusive and meeting the needs of people with varying abilities.
“When I think about inclusiveness, I think about beyond what we require,” he said.
He said the best way to figure out what that means for building a playground is to talk with the people who will be using it and advocacy groups for people with disabilities who are in the area.
That’s what Milton resident Krystyn LaBate did as she worked to construct an inclusive playground located inside Burgess Kimball Memorial Park.
LaBate’s son, Giovanni, has Cortical Malformation and Cephalic Disorder, two neurological disorders that have left him partially impaired. She said when Giovanni was around 3-years-old, she tried taking him to other parks to play but found it very difficult to get across the playground because of the wood chips, which would get stuck in his braces. Using the equipment wasn’t much easier either, she said.
“It just wasn’t an area he was able to play in,” she said.
So, she decided to reach out to the town about building a playground that was friendlier to people with mobility problems and offered an assortment of other play options for kids of all abilities. But before picking what items to have, she got others involved.
“I actually reached out to several families in the area to see what they wanted,” she said.
She also worked with the company Gametime, which uses Me2: 7 Principles of Inclusive Playground Design to build its structures. Those principles, which touch on topics ranging from access flexibility and inclusion of ramps to equitable opportunities for all children, such as including sensory items, were developed by researchers, architects and play experts at Utah State University Center for Person with Disabilities.
“There’s a lot of features in that playground,” LaBate said.
Some include swings with extra support and a chair that moves side to side and front to back that someone can sit in while others make it move.
Becky Manning of Wilton helped raise funds to create Kaitlin’s Korner at Gavin Park.
Manning had grown up going to Gavin Park, but her daughter, who suffered a seizure at 3-years-old and had mobility issues afterward found difficulty in accessing elements of the park.
“There wasn’t anything in that area that gave her that safety aspect,” she said.
So, Manning decided the park needed to become more inclusive and she used $106,000 in money she raised to add in items like a teeter-totter with bucket seats that additional safety straps could be attached to, sensory items like bongo drums anyone could play with and transition steps to help kids get on the jungle gym more easily. Part of the playground also got a new ground surface that is similar to what someone might see on a track to allow people in wheelchairs to move better.
“It’s impossible to push a wheelchair on wood chips,” she said.
In Schenectady County, Central Park’s playground was overhauled a few years ago to include more options for kids, from the squishy ground surface that’s easy to roll a wheelchair across to ramps to access the jungle gym containing the slide.
A new playground at Maalwyck park offers a couple of inclusive swings and a merry-go-round.
Michelle Boyle, of Colonie, enjoys bringing her kids to Cook Park, which she said offers a variety of inclusive items for kids to play with. She said her kids especially love the swings that she can ride on with them.
She said some of her top items to make a park inclusive are pieces of equipment for kids lacking core strength or items where kids can come right up in their wheelchair or walker.
When places don’t take into account all abilities they limit who can use their playgrounds, Manning said.
“Every child should be able to enjoy the stimulation, fun and interaction a playground offers,” she said. “We need more places for children to be able to play together without differences or boundaries.”
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at 518-478-3320 or [email protected]