Article Updated February 2022
Every child has the essential and undeniable right to play, and to experience the magic and freedom that comes from an ordinary day at the park. And there is nothing children love more, regardless of their abilities and needs, than playing and socializing alongside one another at the playground!
Massachusetts has always been among top-ranking states working hard to ensure and support equal participation for children with disabilities and special needs, and it’s no different when it comes to recreation. Universal playgrounds, accessible to all and designed for children with physical disabilities to experience mobility and have access to equipment and fun, multi-sensory designs is something Boston communities can and should be proud of! Here are some local, inclusive playgrounds that serve as a model for our entire nation that families of all abilities should check out.
Rising Star Playground — Beverly
The big draw for Rising Star Playground is its interactive musical ground components, perfect for kids of all ages to explore together. There are also ramps to access higher structures and a ground level window area for imaginative play. Kids can even visit the Sign Language learning board to learn how to communicate with friends.
Touch The Sky Playground — Beverly
Open to the public when school is not in session on afternoons and weekends, this fully accessible North Shore playground features a slide constructed out of roller balls for touch sensations along with learning boards and wide ramps with rubber surfaces. The latest addition to the school’s dedication to children with disabilities, and also open to the community when not in use, is the Douglas Marino Community Field, a rubberized, completely level field that allows children in wheelchairs or with vision impairments to play ball! The school’s executive director, Mark Carlson, wants parents of children with disabilities to know about this community asset, and that it is available to them.
Martin’s Park at the Smith Family Waterfront —
Martin’s Park, a City of Boston park, honors the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombings, Martin Richard. Martin’s Park is a symbol of Martin’s welcoming and inclusive nature, and a unique outdoor play space created to support outdoor adventure and nature play. The Park, with its many inventive structures, is an inclusive play space offering opportunities for children of all abilities to experience discovery and exploration. Designed to encourage interaction with natural materials including plants, stone, and wood the Park offers the opportunity for rich outdoor play experiences that connect children with nature and with each other.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino Park — Charlestown
The city’s first universally accessible playground, steps from the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in the Charlestown Navy Yard incorporates a ramped play structure, embankment slides and climbers, and a swing chair. This dramatic, waterfront space has been noted for its cleanliness, and was envisioned by Mayor Menino in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings to afford special needs children, patients, and families the opportunity for active play as well as a place of respite for recovery and relief. In his words, “This is Boston at its best—people coming together to improve the quality of life for the residents of our city.”
Harambee Park — Dorchester
Unveiled in 2009, this bright and vibrantly colored playground was Boston’s first “Boundless Playground”, and was designed to maximize play with elevated structures such as a gazebo affording children with physical disabilities a greater perspective that was once unreachable, while at the same time encouraging independent play with peers. This site features plenty of high-backed swings and play panels along with multiple handrails, and was furnished through another of Mayor Thomas Menino’s programs.
Buttonwood Park Playground and Zoo — New Bedford
Named “one of the finest small zoos in the United States”, the Buttonwood complex is wonderfully designed for an outing. The Black Bear Express and Wildlife Carousel are both ADA certified, making them wheelchair accessible for children and just down a path lies the accessible playground with wide ramps and elevated surfaces that allow plenty of room for turning in a wheelchair. Bring some bread to feed the ducks in the idyllic pond, all located on the grounds of Buttonwood Park.
Noah’s Place Playground — New Bedford
Located at Marine Park on Pope’s Island, this community-inspired and generously funded and dedicated site is the largest and most sensory-rich inclusive playground in New England. Features of this park include a toddler playground, wheelchair swing, a natural embankment slide, and a seesaw-like apparatus that children of all abilities can enjoy.
Fore River Field and Playground — Quincy
Fore Playground features wide walkways, wheelchair ramps, and wheelchair accessible play equipment, including a seesaw. There are also ground-level sensory activities, like chimes. Along with the playground there are also two little league fields, a street hockey court, tennis court, basketball court, and football field.
Adventures for Angels — Peabody
This playground features rubber matting surface throughout, high back swings, and a ramp system for children in wheelchairs. Adventures for Angels also has slides with rollers for touch stimulation, as well as special panels, including an interactive Braille clock and wind chimes.
Amelia Grace Place — Rockport
The town of Rockport’s public elementary school playground, Amelia Grace Place, is open to the public during non-school hours. The playground includes accessible swings, climbing structures that enable a wheelchair to go to the top, and many ground-level activities, including Braille, Sign Language, and English to Spanish learning boards.
Bill Adelson Playground at Haskell Recreation Area — Sudbury
Billed as a toddler playground for younger children, the smooth surfaces and ramps throughout this playground make it super accessible. There are also transfer stations, platforms where children can lift themselves out of their wheelchairs onto play equipment. Multiple sports fields and a concession stand are all on-site.
Barton Road Playground — Wellesley
Opened in 2013, this privately funded, 10,000 sq. ft. universal playground hits all the marks of inclusive play for children and is well equipped with completely accessible rubber surfacing, ADA swings, and multiple ground components. Learning boards feature Spanish to English language and the impressive site is sectioned for kids ages 2-5 and 5-12.
Ronan McElligott Memorial Playground — Westford
Located at Edwards Beach, the Ronan McElligott Memorial Playground is full of outdoor fun for kids of all abilities. The playground features universally accessible surfacing and pathways for wheelchairs so every child can reach the highest play deck. There are swings and bouncers with neck and back supports. Along with play structures there is interactive fun for all kids, including metal tubes that make music and a rotating sensory bin.