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Nationwide, An Effort to Make Playgrounds More Accessible

Michael Lynch
90.5 WESA

There is a growing national movement, spurred at least in part by a federal mandate, to build playgrounds that are designed to include children with disabilities.

In 2011, the Department of Justice adopted revisions to the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. One of the changes by the Justice Department to the ADA involves playgrounds that are used by children ages 2 and older in a variety of public settings, including school yards.

Prior to the revisions, only the route to the playground was required to be accessible. The new regulation mandates that new and renovated playgrounds have a certain percentage of ground-level equipment and above-ground equipment be accessible.

Explore an interactive NPR database of accessible playgrounds nationwide

The city of Pittsburgh has 130 playgrounds and parks. Pennsylvania has 120 state parks, many with playgrounds.

Marci Mowery, president of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, said the group's theme this year has been “The Outdoors is for Everyone,” to help individuals with disabilities participate in and enjoy a wide range of activities from fishing and swimming to kayaking and biking.

Mowery said an example of that commitment is the upcoming construction of an EZ Dock at Point State Park to help disabled boaters. 

“We’re looking at other places where we can place those," Mowery said. "We’re looking at putting in handicapped-accessible fishing piers in some of our state parks. We’re raising funds to make any of the barriers disappear or to reduce the barriers top participating in outdoor recreation.”

Mowery said making a park or a playground more accessible starts with awareness of the facilities. 

“If you have a path, is the grade such that a person in a wheelchair can manage it?" she said.

Also important is "making sure that you have staff that is able to offer assistance to someone who is attending has a disability, like if you’re doing a program and somebody is hearing impaired that they also have the visuals they can use or vice versa if someone is visually impaired they can hear the information.”

Mowery said “we’re gaining in our knowledge” how to make playgrounds and parks more accessible. 

“We recently put a playground in a park and one of the pieces of equipment was what we would have called a ‘merry-go-round,’ but this piece was called an ‘omni-spinner,’" Mowery said. “It was designed for any child to use. If a child is in a wheelchair, he or she could move him or herself into the omni-spinner and it was centrifugal force that kept you in it. You didn’t have to hold on because you had back support."

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm