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Playground equipment With Special Needs, More Places Can Play

Playground equipment With Special Needs, More Places Can Play


In Pocatello ¡ª an old railroad town bordering the Fort Hall Indian Reservation ¡ª Brooklyn's Playground sits on a flat, often windy park with a view of the Rocky Mountains.
That it's here at all goes back to a minor domestic squabble and a bump on the head.
When Brooklyn was 3 years old, her dad took her to another playground, and put her in a regular swing. "I thought she could handle it," Fisher says, "So I put her in there, and my wife said, 'I wouldn't do that.' "
Brooklyn was born with spina bifida and has difficulty controlling her muscles. With no back support, she flipped out of the swing and hit her head.
"So it was at that time that my wife said, 'We need to do this. We need to bring a playground for her, for the other kids in our community, to Pocatello.' "
Inclusive designs have been evolving for decades. Federal accessibility guidelines have been around since the 1990s. But in recent years there has been a bigger push by parents, advocates and designers, amounting to an inclusive playground movement.
"We have the therapeutic swings," Fisher says. "These have got backs, so kids that don't have that muscle tone can get in there completely, and feel safe and secure and swing."
One of the elements that legally define an accessible playground is literally the ground.
"We have ramps leading up to all the play structures. You have the solid surfaces throughout the entire playground. With walkers or wheelchairs it's very easy to go around this."
If the surface weren't smooth, if it were sand or those familiar wood chips, kids in wheelchairs might get stuck, or their parents would have to carry them.

This accessible swing is designed to support children with physical disabilities. John W. Poole/NPR
But ramps ¡ª and other inclusive playground features ¡ª drive up costs. For example, the smooth, resilient surface at Brooklyn's Playground cost more than $150,000.
Also, at 15,000 square feet, this playground is something most municipalities wouldn't have the funding to build on their own.
So the Fishers, with the help of a local civic group, started raising money.
Over eight months, the money poured in from grants and hundreds of individual donations, bake sales and garage sales. "We raised $580,000 and it cost $560,000 so we have $20,000 in the maintenance fund," Fisher says.
And when it came time to build the playground, 3,000 people showed up to work. In a week, it was done.
But public playgrounds are generally the responsibility of local governments. So, couldn't the city of Pocatello have built it?
"Absolutely not," says Mayor Brian Blad, "not on the budget we have."
He and officials from other municipalities tell NPR that a weak economy has put many local governments in survival mode ¡ª providing basic services and not much more.
"The resources just wouldn't be there for a playground like this," Blad says. "The money is needed in so many other places."
But as of March 15, 2012, federal law requires that public play areas include wheelchair-friendly surfaces and equipment that help kids with physical challenges move around. So if a town does build or renovate a playground, it must meet specific accessibility standards. And, localities must provide their residents with "program accessibility," which means there are equal play opportunities for everyone in the community.

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