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Playgrounds are for everyone

Recent changes to federal laws now mean that playgrounds must have wheelchair accessible surfaces and equipment suitable for people living with disabilities. The changes affect all parks built or modified after March 2012. The foot traffic into one western New York town has tripled since their all inclusive playground opened this past May.

“It has been a dream of ours for years and years. She’s never been able to play on regular playground equipment due to her physical disabilities and safety concerns. So, this is just amazing. She can just come and be a regular kid and enjoy everything that typical kids can enjoy.” Amanda Malloy.

On a cool autumn day, Malloy pushes her 12 year-old daughter Payton on a chair swing. The chair is designed to keep people of all sizes safely buckled in while they swing.

Payton and her family have visited Kiwanis Park in the Town of Bataviaat least once a week since it was upgraded. Malloy says before that, Payton had to stay back and watch her cousins play.

“Friends with disabilities and friends without disabilities can come here and all play together. We’ve had her and a bunch of her friends here and the moms and dads just stand back, hangout and watch, and our eyes are filled with tears because we’re just so happy that they can play like typical kids,” said Malloy.

Shelley Falitico is the Director of Development at the Genesee ARC, a non-profit group that advocates for people with disabilities.Falitico says this inclusive playground goes beyond the federal guidelines.

“Another part of the population it could help serve is senior citizens, the pathways are smooth, wide, and they’re organized so that it goes from each piece of equipment, to the pavilion, to the bathrooms. Someone could propel their own wheelchair or if they use a walker or if they have trouble walking, it is very well laid out that it makes it accessible for anyone in our community,” said Falitico.

The playground was built by volunteers and funded through the municipality’s reserve fund and donations. The new equipment is custom-built and colorful. Falitico says it is crucial for people with disabilities to have a safe outdoor space to play.

“There’s a piece over there that they can lie on and pull themselves through with their hands and it has these large metal rolling balls that go up and down their back and legs, and children with autism that type of sensory input is very helpful, therapeutic, but it’s done in a fun way, so the child without a disability that’s waiting in line to get on behind them can do that same type of activity and it doesn’t make it look like it was just set up for a child that’s disabled, any child can use it.”

Dr. Kate DaBoll-Lavoie, the Chair in the Department of Inclusive Childhood Education at Nazareth College, says accessible playgrounds offer children necessities important to their development.

“One of the ways that we develop confidence is through being able to do things successfully, independently. So as we think about an inclusive playground and some of the play design concepts, inclusive playgrounds include things that have multiple levels of challenges so that all children are able to have success, be able to have fun and some independence,” she said.

Town of Batavia Highway Superintendent Tom Lichtenthal worked on the design of the park. He says the playground includes a feature that people in a wheelchair might not have used before, a swing.

“We did a little research behind that wheelchair swing to see what was the risk involved in it and this risk was very low. The swing itself, what you do is you roll the wheelchair up onto a platform, strap them in, and they swing like in a normal swing,”

Many people have come from all over upstate New York to visit the park. Lichtenthal suggests other municipalities make their parks inclusive, as well.

“The appreciation that we saw made all of the additional effort that it takes, and it really wasn’t that much more effort, but the reward was 100 times greater than the effort that you put in. I would not even hesitate to do something like this again,” according to Lichtenthal.

In the future, Lichtenthal says they plan to add more accessible equipment to the playground at Kiwanis Park. Payton Malloy’s suggestion is a slide.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.