Being "unique" may be cool when you're a teenager, but it can be tough when you're a child.
Kids have a tendency to pick on those with obvious differences, as most of us had the displeasure of finding out some time during grade school. So, it's easy to see what a social struggle it would be to be a child with special needs — especially if your differences prevented you from doing the stuff other kids do, like playing on the jungle gym.
That's what makes the new playground being built at Memorial Park so cool. The "universally accessible" spot will give a lot of our kids a pleasure they've never experienced — the ability to have fun at the playground alongside their peers.
Here's all the information from the city:
SPRING COMES EARLY TO MEMORIAL PARK
Construction underway on playground designed for children with disabilities
Amidst bare earth and construction debris, a giant, colorful daisy signals progress on the City’s first universally accessible playground. Located in an existing city park, Memorial Park, the new playground will offer children of all abilities the opportunity to play side-by-side, barrier-free. Completion is tentatively scheduled for May. The playground is the outcome of a partnership between the City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department's TOPS Program and local nonprofit, The Swing High Project, headed by Olympic medal-winning gymnast Michelle Dusserre-Farrell, who has a ten-year-old daughter with spina bifida.
Universally accessible playgrounds are typically more expensive than traditional playground equipment because of the need for extensive ramping systems and rubber play surfacing. The City and Swing High Project spent two years raising funds for the $937,000 Memorial Park playground. Funding partners include the voter-approved TOPS Program ($400,000); Great Outdoors Colorado ($200,000); developer parkland dedication fees ($150,000); Phil Long Community Fund ($110,000); Gates Family Foundation ($25,000); El Pomar Foundation ($10,000); King Soopers ($10,000); Aerials Gymnastics ($10,000); and Swing High Project donors ($22,000). No general city tax funds were used to construct the playground.
Memorial Park is currently maintained with general city tax funds and is one of thirteen parks scheduled to receive full maintenance and irrigation in 2010. Given the City’s uncertain budget outlook, this will be the last developed park project constructed by the City of Colorado Springs Parks Department until additional revenues can be secured for park maintenance.
Design assistance was provided by Shane’s Inspiration, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, CA that specializes in universally accessible playground design. Features include ramped play structures; accessible pathways and rubber surfacing; cozy spots where children can gather; harnessed swings with back support; and elevated sand tables and activity panels. Equipment incorporated into the playground was requested at a public design workshop hosted in spring 2007. The play area also includes accessible picnic areas and family-style restrooms.
Colorado Springs has many playgrounds that meet or exceed ADA requirements, but the Memorial Park structure will be the first universally accessible playground designed specifically to meet the needs of children with disabilities. “Traditional playgrounds, while ADA compliant, are not always readily accessible to persons with disabilities,” said Michelle Dusserre-Farrell, Swing High Project Executive Director. “Accessible pathways often lead to play structures surrounded by moats of sand and mulch that can be impossible to cross. Once a child with an ambulatory device reaches the equipment, she has to remove her support apparatus in order to play on the structure. This is humiliating, dangerous, and impossible for most children with physical disabilities.”
Play is especially important to children with special needs who, on a daily basis, face physical discomfort, frustration due to limited physical or cognitive development, and social isolation from being separated at school and in the community. “This playground will give children with disabilities a chance for independent and spontaneous play, often for the first time in their lives, and a chance to play side-by-side with their able-bodied peers building confidence, teaching compassion and creating positive perspectives of disability,” Dusserre-Farrell said.
According to 2000 U.S. Census statistics, there are 8,400 residents in El Paso County between the ages of five and twenty who have some degree of non-institutionalized disability. The closest public access universally accessible playground to Colorado Springs is in the Denver Metro area.
About The Swing High Project:
The Swing High Project was established in 2006 to build a universally accessible playground in the Pikes Peak Region where children play and differences disappear. The Director of the Swing High Project, Michelle Dusserre-Farrell, is a former Olympic medal-winning gymnast and has a ten-year-old daughter with spina bifida. Dusserre-Farrell was instrumental in working with City leaders to make a universally accessible playground a priority, establishing a non-profit organization to raise funds for the project, and connecting the City with technical expertise for the playground design. The Swing High Project is a component fund of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. More information can be found at www.swinghigh.org.
TOPS is a .1% sales and use tax for trails, open space, and parks. The TOPS Program was originally approved by the voters in 1997. In 2003, the TOPS sales tax was extended through 2025. Voters reaffirmed their desire to use TOPS funds for capital projects by rejecting a proposal to increase the amount of TOPS funds for park maintenance in April of 2009.