GT IndependenceResources and ToolsResourcesDisability Garrison – Episode 13: Inclusive Playgrounds with Julie Kenerson (Fair Play for All)

Disability Garrison – Episode 13: Inclusive Playgrounds with Julie Kenerson (Fair Play for All)

June 28, 2022

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The Problem

When Maggie Carmichael started going to preschool, she was excited to play with her new friends. But the school’s playground was not accessible to her. As a wheelchair user, Maggie could not climb the steps or use the slide. So every day at recess, Maggie would be taken out of her wheelchair and placed in the wood chips to play on her own. She would come home from school covered in splinters. And she wasn’t able to enjoy the playground with her friends, like every kid should.

Maggie’s Mom, Holly, Fought for Change

Holly realized that making a playground inclusive for Maggie would make it accessible to everyone. So, she became certified in Inclusive Play Design. And after a lot of research and work, a new playground opened in St. Joseph County, Michigan. It was unlike any other in the county. Holly had designed it so everyone could enjoy it. Grandparents could play with their grandkids without fear of slipping and falling. Kids with disabilities could play alongside their siblings, just like at home. A parent with a disability could have fun with their kids at the playground.

Across the Country, Another Mom Joined the Fight

Julie Kenerson heard that her local playground was going to be updated. She remembered taking her sons, Lukas and Jake, to various parks to play. Jake was in a wheelchair, and Julie struggled to find playgrounds where both boys could play together. Sometimes, Jake had to sit on the sidelines, missing out on the fun with his brother. Even after Jake’s passing in 2019, Julie never forgot how heartbreaking it was for Jake to not be able to participate.

Julie decided to get involved. She wanted to make sure that all members of a family could enjoy the playground at the park. So she attended planning meetings for the playground. When the plans were announced as being “ADA Compliant,” Julie pushed the playground planners to do even better. Her local, fully-inclusive playground is opening this fall. And, her city is starting to bring up inclusive design in conversations for future projects without being prompted. In memory of Jake, Julie continues to advocate.

Join Michael as he talks with co-host Holly Carmichael, and special guest Julie Kenerson. They discuss Holly’s experience designing and building the first inclusive playground in her area. Julie recalls what it was like telling her city officials that “ADA Compliant” wasn’t good enough. And they discuss how inclusive playgrounds benefit everyone.

What We Can Do About It

It’s easy to get paralyzed by the feeling that we can’t make a difference. But helping out can be a lot simpler than we think.

Step 1: Learn What Makes a Playground Inclusive

New and upgraded playgrounds are required to be “ADA Compliant.” However, these guidelines are for physical disabilities that use mobility aids. They do not include guidance for other disabilities such as hearing loss or autism. We can do better to build playgrounds that work for everyone.

According to PlayWorld, the 8 key features of an inclusive playground are:

  • Physical, sensory, and social activities
  • Multiple levels of challenge
  • Grouping of activities
  • Elevated play
  • The ‘Coolest Thing’
  • Pods, Rooms, and Zones
  • Unitary surfacing
  • Routes and maneuverability

Step 2: Join Our Fair Play for All: Celebrate Play! Campaign

We want to hear from you! What is your favorite piece of inclusive playground equipment? Click the link below to learn about several pieces of playground equipment. Then, cast a vote for your favorite one. Your vote enters you into a giveaway we are holding. One winner and 3 guests of their choice will be join us at Morgan’s Wonderland! While there, we will be celebrate Maggie’s 9th birthday. And, we will enjoy an inclusive theme park together.

Through Fair Play for All , we are raising awareness about the need for inclusive play. A 2013 study shows that recess offers many benefits for whole child development. Those benefits should not only be for able-bodied children. All kids should be able to play on their local playgrounds. And their parents, grandparents, and other family members should be able to use these spaces as well.

Step 3: Support Unlimited Play

Unlimited Play is an award-winning non-profit that builds inclusive playgrounds for children of all abilities. Their standards exceed the minimum requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This ensures caregivers and children can experience play without boundaries or restrictions.

Boom. You’ve made a difference.

Julie’s Story

For the past 30 years, Julie Kenerson has been a teacher. She’s worked in Switzerland and in a French immersion program. She even helped lead teacher tours to Japan, Ghana, and Benin. Currently, she works in the Wellesley, MA, Public Schools. Julie is driven by finding ways to effectively engage all students in learning. She is a talented curriculum developer and is passionate about global citizenship.

But perhaps more important, Julie is a mom to Jake and Lukas. Jake was born in 2008 with a rare disease called PMM2-CDG. Julie’s family adopted a “Try Everything” mantra. They sought out experiences that the whole family could enjoy together. Some of their favorites include swimming, skiing, visiting museums, and visiting playgrounds. 

Since Jake’s passing in 2019, Julie has worked to honor his memory so other families can also try everything. They host a virtual walk called Jake’s Good Good Good Walk each October. In addition, Julie has raised awareness about blood and platelet donations. She has also fundraised for Children’s Hospital Boston. Her advocacy is now focused on full inclusion in play spaces throughout Massachusetts.

Get More Information on Inclusive Playgrounds

What Makes a Playground Inclusive?

Why is Making Playgrounds Inclusive for the Whole Family Important?

Making a Difference in Inclusive Play

Learn More About Disability Garrison Podcast