We’ve recently become aware of a movement to bring inclusion into our public parks here in Franklin, Tennessee!
On February 5th, there is a very important meeting. Master plans are being laid for a new park, the proposed Southeast Municipal Complex. The park would be located on 180 acres, on the east side of Franklin between Interstate 65 and the Harpeth River. Part of the 2015 Parks Comprehensive Master Plan, the time has finally come for the park to begin to take shape, and they are looking for your feedback!
One idea that is gaining momentum, thanks to local community leaders, is to build an inclusive playground, one that would be accessible to every member of Franklin’s growing community. But in order to make this dream a reality, we need your help!
The individuals planning this park need to know that our community needs an inclusive playground!
What Is an Inclusive Playground?
The basic idea behind an inclusive playground is exactly what the name implies – a playground that truly includes anyone and everyone. In execution, an inclusive playground should have certain features to enhance every child’s play experience, regardless of age, size, mobility, or ability level.
On a very basic level, inclusive playgrounds should be equally accessible to all individuals. This means accessibility that is fully aligned with the specifications set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Wide paths and ramps both on the playground itself and leading to it, in conjunction with accessible playground surfacing and equipment, are the keys to ensuring that every person who wishes to access the playground can do so with as little difficulty as possible.
So, too, should the playground equipment be accessible to all, including the implementation of equipment that could be used and accessed in many diverse ways. Multiple play functions for one piece of equipment allow for every child to be creative in the ways they experience their playground, and ensures that every child can feel that they are a part of community play at every moment.
On inclusive playgrounds, all equipment is designed to be used by all children. There is no separate section with accessible equipment – everyone is playing together. Not only that, but ideally on an inclusive playground, everyone is also playing independently.
In that vein, an inclusive playground’s layout, design, flow, and equipment all encourage an environment where all children are playing side-by-side, no matter their ability level. Intuitive layouts and equipment make it easy for anyone to find their way around and do exactly what they enjoy most. Adaptive playgrounds encourage exploration and reward the curious, and strive to maximize activity while minimizing fatigue.
Naturally, the playground must be safe. When a safe and comfortable place is created for children of all ability levels, then developmentally appropriate risks can be taken because of the fun challenges a well-designed play environment can provide. An inclusive playground would allow for all children to experience that freedom alongside their peers, laying down important social, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Why Do We Need One Here?
To answer this, we turn to a High Hopes parent. Cassie Dominique recently had the opportunity to spend a day with her son Hudson at an inclusive playground in Ohio. Hudson is a fun-loving 4-year-old who loves to be outside, but with some mobility and motor control limitations, he often needs an adult beside him to play on a regular playground.
“To see him play at the accessible park completely independent was so exciting,” Cassie says. “He was able to be a kid and play with his friends without his mom by his side 24/7.”
The inclusive, adaptive, and accessible playground leaves both Mom and kiddo with a big smile after a day of playing hard! “It’s sad that we have to go to Ohio to play at the park, though. It would be amazing to have an accessible park close to home!”
Accessible playgrounds benefit more than just children with special needs. Children who are typically developing will also gain a lot from an inclusive park environment. Inclusive environments promote the development of empathy in children, as well as socially inclusive attitudes, and prepare children for the diverse environments that they will continue to encounter later in life.
And it isn’t just children! Imagine a playground where parents with special needs can play right beside their kiddos on the playground, where grandparents of all mobility levels can picnic with the grandkids, where adult members of the special needs community can participate in active play and mentoring with the younger generation! An inclusive playground provides the perfect spot for intergenerational play opportunities to unfold.
In a county where the school system has fought and continues to fight so hard for inclusion, both in the school system and in the community, it just makes sense to expand that attitude into the way we design our public spaces. An inclusive playground would be a huge step towards a truly inclusive community, and we hope we can count on your support!
Bringing It Home
This Monday, on February 5, the City of Franklin Parks Department will host a public meeting and give a presentation to obtain feedback regarding the Southeast Park master plan concepts for the park and the municipal complex. The meeting will begin at 6:00 PM in the City Hall Training Room at 109 3rd Ave S. If at all possible, it would be a huge help if parents were able to attend this meeting and provide feedback in support of an inclusive playground at this location.
If you can’t make it to the meeting, you can still make your voice heard! Take a moment to send an email to Lisa Clayton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together we can build a stronger community for every family here in Middle Tennessee.