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From Compliant to Inclusive

Moving into 2016, universally accessible public spaces have become a growing priority, especially for families who deal with a disability firsthand. According to the most recent U.S. census findings, 19% of the country’s population lives with a disability. The goal is to go beyond just providing a few pieces of equipment at playgrounds and public lands that comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Families dealing first-hand with a disability want integrated accommodations that truly include everyone. That’s no easy feat. That means widening sidewalks, walkways, and playground equipment to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices. It means specially-designed swing seats, transfer stations, and non-traditional equipment that brings all types of people together.The Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, California, is one case in which the community has come together to build this type of public space.

“Addressing the unique play needs of the many kinds of children in our community, our hope is to create awareness that today’s park designs are overlooking so many: the growing autistic population, visually and hearing impaired, physically limited and even our aging community.” - Magical Bridge Playground

Opened in April 2015, the playground is home to equipment and activities that are suited for all disabled people, as well as able-bodied ones, from children to adults. Retreat areas and a larger-than-life 24-string laser harp were designed to help soothe autistic visitors that may have social anxieties. An expanded hillside slide allows for the less mobile to participate easily and safely. There’s even a two-story treehouse that is completely wheelchair accessible. Every feature, from the landscape to the layout, fosters complete inclusivity.

A similar need was felt in Michigan, at the Ocqueoc (Ah-key-ock) Falls Bicentennial Pathway, as the wilderness was too challenging for people with disabilities to traverse in order to access the river. Through some innovative thinking from the Michigan Parks and Recreation Division, it became the first accessible waterfall in the United States! The pathway is now outfitted with a wheelchair-accessible ramp that leads to the river made of recycled plastic. A tiered stone walls acts as a transfer station that allows people with limited mobility access to the water. New accessible picnic areas feature accessible picnic tables and concrete pads for wheelchairs to sit alongside park benches. Even the parking lot is designed to be as accessible as possible.

While your organization may not be in a position completely overhaul your facility, there are easy adjustments you can make to be more inclusive.

  • Space: make sure hallways and pathways are wide enough and clear of barriers for wheelchairs and other mobility devices to move through easily
  • Buddy Bench: install a “Buddy Bench” at the playground to create a safe space for children with disabilities or social anxieties to interact with their fellow students
  • Accessible Amenities: provide wheelchair-accessible picnic tables can bring inclusiveness to any setting
  • Surfacing: Correct flooring or outdoor surfacing to accommodate wheelchairs can help them better interact with their surroundings
  • Ground-Level Activities: musical and sensory play are activities that
  • Nature: Feeling connected to nature can have a calming effect for people with certain disabilities

Because of the families and municipalities that have gone the distance to set an example of what truly accessible places should look like, inclusive public spaces are being thought of as the rule, not the exception.

To read more about Magical Bridge Playground: Magical Bridge Playground

To read more about Ocqueoc Falls: Accessible Trail Opens Michigan’s Ocqueoc Falls to All

To browse the products mentioned in this blog post: Buddy Bench, Accessible Picnic Tables

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