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Identity & Community

Where To Find Accessible Play Spaces In Pittsburgh

accessible playground children's home of pittsburgh
Courtesy The Children's Home
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The Children's Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center opened its accessible playground in 2019 and has seen significant use by community members.

After months of virtual school and isolation from friends, many families are packing a picnic and taking their kids to the city’s dozens of playgrounds. Pittsburgh parks have more than 90 accessible swings and wheel-chair accessible swings in nearly all of its neighborhoods.

“Kids don’t get tired of playing on playgrounds,” said Andrea Ketzel, senior project landscape architect for the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works. “That’s a positive thing to see and get them out in those spaces, away from the screens and the computers.”

Ketzel, who oversees all capital projects that take place in Pittsburgh’s outdoor spaces, like parks and trails, said the benefits of getting families engaged in play is essential.

Wightman Park’s recent renovation has an inclusive playground, with features that kids who use wheelchairs or are on the autism spectrum can enjoy. In the Squirrel Hill park there’s a “cozy cocoon” spinning piece of equipment where Ketzel said kids who might be more sensitive to sounds or busy environments can huddle inside if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

“We also included a piece of equipment that’s called an ‘infinite,’” Ketzel said. “It’s a large network and a climbing structure… and if you have a child who’s in a wheelchair, they can transfer onto this piece and lay there or move around and climb around just like other kids.”

accessible playground wheelchair children's home of pittsburgh
Courtesy The Children's Home
A kid swings at the accessible playground at The Children's Home of Pittsburgh.

It’s important for accessible play structures to feel seamless in the space, so children with disabilities don’t feel isolated from their peers. With the help of an accessibility consultant, Ketzel said she learned about other easy ways to adjust equipment to make the experience better for every type of kid.

“[The consultant] told me that the static on a plastic slide can really interfere with kids who might have cochlear implants,” Ketzel said. “So she recommended these roller slides. They’re metal and they’re kind of like a conveyor belt.”

About 2 miles away in Bloomfield, The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center has had an “inclusive playground” since 2019. The space includes ground level sensory elements like chimes and bells and drums, as well as smooth rubber surfacing and tall tunnels so people in wheelchairs can go through. Kristina Waltman, chief development officer at the Children’s Home, said when the space first opened, it was fun to see the kids, but also hear them.

“There are all these elements on the playground that are musical, so we would hear chimes and bells and drums throughout the day,” Waltman said. “It was a constant reminder that the community really needed a resource like this.”

(The Children’s Home playground is currently closed due to the spread of the coronavirus in Allegheny County.)

As more organizations work to implement activities for kids with disabilities, Waltman and Ketzel said they’re eager to help other groups make their spaces accessible for all.