Kids of all abilities will finally get a chance to play together when Colorado Springs opens its first "universally accessible playground" in Memorial Park this Saturday.
Children with disabilities, particularly those who use wheelchairs, often feel left out when they can't keep up with their friends. Playgrounds often use sand landscaping, which can't be wheeled through, and usually are designed for able-bodied kids who can climb over obstacles.
Those designs leave kids with disabilities on the sidelines. So Memorial's unique structure is expected to be greeted with cheers.
No tax dollars were used to build the playground.
For lots and lots of additional information, keep reading:
First playground in the Pikes Peak Region designed for children with disabilities opens Saturday at Memorial Park in Colorado Springs
The first public Universally Accessible playground in the Pikes Peak Region will open on Saturday, May 22 at Memorial Park in Colorado Springs. A dedication ceremony is scheduled from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. at the new playground, located in the southwest corner of Memorial Park (715 Prospect Lake Dr.). The public is invited and welcome to come celebrate the community's new playground.
The new Universally Accessible playground at Memorial Park will offer children of all abilities the opportunity to play side-by-side, barrier-free. The playground is the outcome of a partnership between the City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department's Trails, Open Space and Parks (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.
“I’m thrilled that after four years of hard work, and with the support of the community and City, that we can finally open our doors to kids of all abilities to simply have a day to play at the park and on the playground without barriers,” said Michelle Dusserre-Farrell, Swing High Project Executive Director.
The City and Swing High Project spent two years raising funds for the $937,000 Memorial Park playground, and no general city tax dollars were used. Universally accessible playgrounds are typically more expensive than traditional playground equipment because of the need for extensive ramping systems and rubber play surfacing. Funding partners include the voter-approved TOPS Program ($400,000); Great Outdoors Colorado ($200,000); developer parkland dedication fees ($150,000); Phil Long Community Grant and Broncos Charities ($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).
"This is an exciting day for Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services," says Chris Lieber, Manager of the City's Trails, Open Space, and Parks (TOPS) program. "This playground is a great first-step for our community, and it's something the City hopes to be able to build more of in the future as the economy and Parks budget allows."
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. “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. Until now, the closest public access universally accessible playground to Colorado Springs was 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.
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