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Photo by Dante Fontana
Swings fly, and small feet and arms are a blur of activity as children pump their hands in pleasure.
They’re cheering because they’re having fun, and because they’re experiencing the feeling of flight for, perhaps, the first time. They’re cheering like they’ve never played on a swing set before. Not all parks are created equal, and for people with disabilities, an act as simple as playing in the park may have once been impossible. But at Mahany Regional and Maidu Regional Parks, both able-bodied and disabled children play in tandem, forgetting about their differences, and enjoying the camaraderie that a Universally Accessible Playground (UAP) provides.
Open for less than a year, these Universally Accessible Playgrounds were created as part of Project Play, a Roseville-based program funded by grants, donations, and park and rehab funds. But parents of special-needs kids don’t care how the program was funded, they simply care about the fun. According to Jeff Dubchansky, acting director of Roseville Parks, Recreation and Libraries, there couldn’t have been a better use for funds. “The playgrounds serve our community as a whole,” he says. “While they are designed to accommodate the special needs of children with disabilities, they serve an important purpose of providing a place where all children can play together as equals and learn together – a place where acceptance, understanding and compassion can flourish.”
And flourish, they do, whether kids are swinging in bucket swings, running tiny hands along sensory surfaces, which include braille, or playing with water and sand features. UAPs are unique, but are showing up in communities across the nation, particularly in Southern California.
“Two Roseville residents brought the idea to the City in 2007 [after attending a Play for All (a universally accessible playground initiative in Folsom – for more visit stylemg.com) community meeting]. Before that time, we were not aware of Universally Accessible Playgrounds, nor that our city had a need,” Dubchansky says. “We visited parks in Southern California, designed by Shane’s Inspiration (a program in Los Angeles, which has raised millions to build UAPs throughout the world). It was amazing to visit these parks and see children interacting together without barriers.”
Another phase of playground fun is in the works at Mahany Park, pending additional fundraising. The phase will include a tree house structure, as well as a retrofit of Royer Park. But for now, both able-bodied, and kids with disabilities look forward to weekends filled with swinging, sliding, and the knowledge that kids can just be kids.
Executive director of Granite Bay-based A Touch of Understanding, Leslie DeDora, agrees. “Fully accessible playgrounds are vital to the health of our communities. The message they send to all members of the community, but especially our children is that everyone should be able to be involved in community life,” she says. DeDora explains that UAPs are a necessity, not just for disabled children, but for adults as well. “They include the father who returned from military service in Iraq and now uses a wheelchair to push his daughter on the swing. They include the grandmother who recently had a stroke and uses a walker as she waits at the bottom of the slide for her grandson.”
And, as DeDora points out, children who play on UAPs today will be the architects, parents and politicians of tomorrow – adults who will settle for nothing less than universal play for all.
For more information on Project Play, visit roseville.ca.us/parks.