Together We Play
The child in the wheelchair was gently and tenderly lifted into the special swing set seat. Once there, several sets of willing hands lovingly and safely secured him in. It was then "up, up, and away," along with his non-challenged compatriots. The child's facial expressions said it all. Utter joy!
The action took place in the town of Brentwood, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, in a new universally accessible playground. The one-acre plus site in Tilles Park was designed and built, especially for Children's Hospital, a charter member of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids major associate of the world-famous Saint Louis Medical Complex. In the 1990s, in slightly over three years in local communities, Children's Hospital was instrumental in the building of 31 playgrounds, but this one was their crowning achievement.
The Children's Home Society of Missouri (CHSM) provides long-term residential and respite care and recreation challenges for children with significant, multiple developmental disabilities and profound mental retardation from birth through 21 years of age. Children's Home Society also offers permanent placement/adoptive services for infants and older children or sibling groups with special needs.
In another section of the same park, the designers crafted an oversized, readily accessible sandbox. A child in a wheelchair can be wheeled up to it and play in the sand from its elevated side while a child without disabilities can do the same from ground level. As if to add the challenge of discovery for both, the designers and builders buried easily found mock dinosaur bones.
A third beneficial aspect of the new playground is that many of the playsets, built by Playworld Systems, are accessible by wheelchairs and are connected with elevated ramps.
"This gives the wheelchair-dependent occupant a sense of height, a tactile experience which is often missing in his or her daily experiences," according to Rick Conaway, Director of Developmental Disabilities Programs for CHSM.
The selection of the supplier and installers of the playground equipment was a very important consideration. Seventy percent of playground injuries result from falls off equipment onto unforgiving surfaces. How you handle surfacing is very important to children's safety and risk management efforts. The surface under and around playground equipment is critical to preventing the injury potential from a fall.
Hard surfacing materials, such as concrete or asphalt, are unsuitable under and around play equipment. Grass or packed earth are not recommended for use because they have poor impact attenuation properties and injury may occur.
Children's Hospital, according to Manager of Advocacy Outreach Kenneth Sowell, "selected Playworld Systems and (locally) Fry & Associates based on experience, reputation, and their past performance with the St. Louis County Parks Department."