Like most children, Anna Craven’s five-year-old daughter, Calli, enjoys playing outdoors with her four siblings in the summer months. However, being challenged with mobility restrictions from cerebral palsy and epilepsy can make it difficult for Calli to participate in activities at standard playgrounds.
“It has been a challenge for my family to find group accessible activities where Calli can play with her brothers and sisters on her own, without me carrying her around,” said Craven. “We went on a vacation to Maryland last year where we found a wheelchair-accessible playground, which she absolutely loved.”
Upon arriving back home from their vacation, Craven searched online to see if there were any similar playgrounds in Central New York. She was pleasantly surprised to discover that a new accessible playground was being built at the 77-acre ARISE at the Farm facility in Chittenango. The organization, which works to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to live freely and independently in the community, installed the new playground to enhance its recreational offerings for children and adults with disabilities.
Craven is just one of the many parents who face obstacles when trying to find accessible outdoor group activities for their families. With a limited number of outdoor play areas in Madison County offering accessible features, it is sometimes challenging for families with a disabled member to find activities to enjoy together. It’s not uncommon for some to stray away from outdoor activities altogether when they are unable to find any that are wheelchair accessible. During the summer months, this can be especially difficult for parents with children who are itching to get outdoors.
The new playground is fully wheelchair accessible. Unique equipment helps to build strength and improve balance. The playground also appeals to the vision- or hearing-impaired by providing activities with instruments and chimes for sound stimulation.
With the help of a Community Foundation grant, ARISE was able to incorporate an all-weather rubberized surface into the design of the playground. The unique and durable flooring allows for true independence for visitors using mobility devices.
“While wood chips or gravel meet the safety standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act, moving around a playground with that type of flooring is virtually impossible for someone with mobility issues,” said Nancy Eaton, Director of Development and Public Relations for ARISE. “When we decided to build this playground, our initial focus was making sure we had the poured rubber surface which has since made it possible for everyone to move independently and freely.”
Another unique aspect of the playground is accessible swings that lay all the way back and include straps for added safety. Swings are just one of the various playground activities that people with disabilities are often unable to use without assistance at a typical play area. The playground also features a large awning in the middle to provide shade to visitors who need a break from the sun, as well as a walking track around the outer edge for parents to watch children play, or those in wheelchairs to get some added exercise or stretching.
ARISE at the Farm has been providing a variety of inclusive recreational programs to people of all abilities since its establishment in 1998. Visitors can take advantage of its year-round programs including adaptive and therapeutic horseback riding, summer camps, an accessible fishing pond and a high ropes course.
“The Farm is a unique place where we make sure every person feels accepted, welcome and safe,” said Eaton. “Hundreds of children as young as two to adults over 50, all with varying abilities, frequent the farm to partake in the programs we offer. They were thrilled to learn about the new playground addition.”
After only a few short months, it is clear that the new playground has truly become a community asset for families in Madison County and beyond.
“People don’t always understand the small things in life like the fact that you can go down a slide, or on a swing, or even walk through a playground, “ said Craven. “This playground has brought so much joy to my daughter who can finally play independently alongside her brothers and sisters.”