There is no better staple of one’s childhood than a playground. Often filled with swings, bars and slides, a playground can occupy a fond spot in many of our memories. We meet our closest friends, and create our most joyful moments through colorful plastic and soft mulch. However, many playgrounds are not physically inclusive, limiting the ability for some children to enjoy them.
For children who are eager to spend time with their friends but have physical impairments, playgrounds can represent a physical reminder of what separates, rather than what brings together. Oftentimes, the playgrounds are inaccessible for children using wheelchairs or crutches, or have components that create noise that is simply too loud for those with sensory sensitivity.
According to Miracle Recreation, an organization that specializes in making playgrounds accessible and ADA compliant, playgrounds provide more than a place to run and jump. They provide equipment that is both inclusive and developmentally stimulating, so playtime can be enjoyed by every child — regardless of their needs. The North Syracuse Early Education Program (NSEEP) recognized how essential the role of a playground is during childhood but also the barriers many of its students face.
“Playgrounds provide a place for kids to get the physical exercise they need to stay healthy by helping them develop critical cognitive, emotional and social skills,” said Cheri Rotelli, a physical therapist at NSEEP and the coordinator of its playground project. “When playgrounds are inaccessible to children with an impairment, it puts a bruise on their social development. All children should have the same opportunities.”
We provided NSEEP with a $30,000 grant to repair and remodel its existing playground to be inclusive for all children. The organization’s mission was built upon supporting and providing opportunities for all of its students including the 50% that have a physical or other impairment. By simply redesigning many of the playground’s features, students can be more independent, and less reliant on adult assistance. The playground features wheelchair accessible ramps, a smooth rubber surface to prevent injury, and a communication board to widen the variety of activities that children can participate in to facilitate learning and socialization.
“This inclusive playground ensures that our students in fact do have more equal opportunities to experience growth through play,” said Rotelli. “It brings me so much joy to see them all laughing and playing together in one place.”
While COVID-19 delayed the actual usage of the playground earlier this year, by May 15th, the playground was officially open for use. Superintendent Daniel D. Bowles stated that, “this beautiful area may seem like just a playground but in reality it is an extension of the classroom for our youngest students. This is an important step in these children’s educational journey.”
NSEEP is dedicated to continuing its work to incorporate inclusivity in all aspects of its programming despite its current successes. It hopes to add a shade structure to the playground in the near future, so children can play and learn in all types of weather. The organization’s work is providing new opportunities to so many students, and we are proud to assist them in its efforts.