About 220,000 Massachusetts kids have special health care needs, ranging from developmental and mental disabilities to long-term chronic illnesses and cancer. Some 20 percent of kids in the Boston Public Schools alone receive special education for some type of disability. But as an increasing number of communities are proving, kids who have physical or mental disabilities don’t need to be sidelined at playtime.
During the past 20 years, there’s been a growing movement to design and build playgrounds accessible to all children, including those with disabilities. These innovative designs include ramps to make all levels accessible to wheelchairs, activity panels at different heights and swings with high backs for increased stability. Here is a guide to some.
• Amelia Grace Place, Rockport Elementary School, Jerden’s Lane, Rockport. Julie Young received an award from the Federation for Children with Special Needs for this playground, built in 2008 in memory of her daughter, Amelia. The all-access playground features ramps (including a wheelchair ramp that goes to the top of an 8-foot tower, with special activities at each level), slides and a wave-shaped structure.
• Buttonwood Park, Brownell Ave. (Route 140), New Bedford. This 97-acre playground has a wheelchair-accessible play structure and two sets of swings – one with adaptive seats – located between the Buttonwood Park Zoo and the park’s greenhouse. The sensory garden has recently been enhanced and more freestanding equipment, benches and trees have been added.
• Early Learning Center Playground, 25 School St., North Attleboro. Constructed in 2009 by volunteers from the community, this playground for all abilities is open to the public when the Learning Center isn’t in session.
• Harambee Park, Talbot and Blue Hill avenues, Dorchester. Boston’s first Boundless Playground features pathways accessible for children using walkers and wheelchairs, and inclusive, sensory-rich playground equipment for all children. The state-of-the art, $1 million playground, designed to serve children in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan, is the result of a joint initiative between CVS Caremark, Boundless Playgrounds, Boston Parks & Recreation and the University of Massachusetts Boston.
• North Beverly Playground, North Beverly Elementary School, 48 Putnam St., Beverly. Open to the public when school isn’t in session, this is Beverly’s second all-access playground (see Touch the Sky Playground for the first). It covers 3,000 square feet and features an adjacent sensory garden.
• Ronan McElligott Memorial Playground, Edwards Beach, Westford. This 16,500-square-foot play area was built in memory of a child who died from Leigh’s disease, a rare neurometabolic illness. The playground provides swings and bouncers with neck and back supports, wide ramps for wheelchairs and special activities to support children with sensory or developmental disabilities.
• Touch the Sky Playground, Beverly School for the Deaf, 6 Echo Ave., Beverly. Completed in 2003, this was the first all-access playground on the North Shore. It is open to the public on afternoons and weekends. Wide ramps accommodate wheelchairs, and there are bucket-seat swings for children who need extra support and even a slide made out of roller balls for children who like touch sensations.
Georgia Orcutt is a former associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.
Have you visited one of these playgrounds? Share your thoughts in our comments section!