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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f770410000PublicSource is an independent, nonprofit news group that focuses on original investigative reporting about critical issues facing Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. It was launched to undertake in-depth reporting in the public interest.PublicSource is a content partner of 90.5 WESA.More about PublicSource here.

Transitioning to a New Generation of Playgrounds

Alexandra Kanik

Narrow slides and flimsy swings are what most people think of when they hear the word playground. But based on a 2010 court ruling, those trademarks of the past are changing. The US Department of Justice made access to play areas a civil right under the Americans with Disabilities Act and new standards took effect last year.

Public Source Reporter Halle Stockton reports that the playgrounds that are required to make these changes are new or majorly reformed playgrounds that began modifications after March 15.

But many playgrounds have already altered their equipment to fit the needs of all children. Some of these changes include a smooth ground surface that's usually rubberized to prevent injuries. You'll also find play structures with ramps along with wide pathways so that children on wheelchairs or a cane can maneuver throughout. The swings also have “rollercoaster seats” to provide back support for children with low muscle tone.

Cheryl Dennis a mother of 3, including one child with a disability, believes that the changes have been enough for her kids, but knows that it is not enough for all kids. She says there are families who have to drive 45 minutes to find a playground that fits in with the needs. This situation will not improve until all playgrounds are required to change, not just the new ones.

Cheryl says one thing that all children seem to enjoy at the renovated and old playgrounds is open space where they can use their creativity and imagination. This is also the way that Pittsburgh Pioneer, a school in Brookline serves its students with disabilities. They've developed an outdoor play area that Principal Sylvia Kunst calls the “sensory garden.”

The sensory garden does not focus on playground equipment as much as getting the children to interact outside with nature.  She says the garden seems to be a “healing power” for the kids.