June 28, 2022
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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.
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?
- ADA.gov – The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. All new or updated playgrounds are to meet or exceed these standards. But do not go far enough in making truly inclusive playgrounds.
- All Play – The difference between accessible and inclusive playgrounds.
- Landscape Structures – “An inclusive playground welcomes kids and families of all abilities to learn, play and grow together.”
- HAGS – Inclusive play isn’t just an American thing! This guide to inclusive playground design is from Sweden.
- Canadian Disability Participation Project – This is a PDF reference of inclusive playground features.
- Playcore – 7 principles of inclusive playground design.
- Kaboom – Universal Design means children can use their typical means of mobility to access a minimum of 70% of the play activities.
Why is Making Playgrounds Inclusive for the Whole Family Important?
- The Yale Law Journal – “Failure to recognize the significant role of the surface material is the conscious or unconscious decision to design for segregation.”
- National Study of Neighborhood Parks – This study found that seniors account for only 4% of park users, even though they make up nearly 20% of the general population.
- InclusivePlaygrounds.net – Nearly 40% of grandparents provide care for their grandchildren.
- Cunningham Recreation – Inclusive play promotes understanding, reduces prejudices, and supports social integration.
- Scholarpedia – This 2013 study shows that recess offers many benefits for whole child development.
- Centers for Disease Control – Time spent in recess has been shown to positively affect students’ classroom behaviors.
- Pediatrics Magazine – Regular, unstructured physical activity improves kids’ brain function.
- K-12 Dive – “Recess on rebound as states recognize academic benefits.”
Making a Difference in Inclusive Play
- WGBH – This interview with Julie by her local news provides more detail on her efforts in Massachusetts.
- Sturgis Journal – This article covers the ribbon-cutting at the inclusive playground Holly designed in Sturgis, Michigan.
- The ARC Minnesota – Pending Legislation in Minnesota would help fund two inclusive playgrounds.
- The Idea Factory – How to design parks that are inclusive for the elderly.
- PlayWorld – How to build an inclusive playground in 10 easy steps.
- Jake’s Good Good Good Walk – Join Julie in walking (or dancing) 3.22 miles in October in memory of Jake.