Handicap-accessible playground surface

Julie Kenerson of Apache Trail submitted this letter about recreational access:

As Arlington engages in the redesign of its playgrounds, I want to raise awareness of inclusive playgrounds through my experience as a mom of a child in a wheelchair. I hope to help people understand the lived experience of many families regarding playgrounds, accessibility and inclusive play.

At our neighborhood playground, Stratton, there is only one element that my child in a wheelchair could engage with -- a red, plastic component with letters that spin. The rest of the structure was inaccessible, similar to the experience many Arlington children are having now with the playground closures of select items because of safety concerns. We are all eager to see the new playgrounds open up again for widespread play.

We have an immediate opportunity with the new playgrounds to provide access to ALL children and their caretakers. In the initial proposal for Stratton, a child like mine would once again only have one element to engage with at the playground. The upper level of the proposed structure is reached by a flight of stairs, only accessible to wheelchair users if they have the upper-body strength to transfer and pull themselves up the staircase. This excludes many wheelchair users.

Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ground level will have an accessible pathway leading to the structure, but then there will be mulch surrounding the structure. Mulched surfaces form mounds and depressions through play, and this uneven ground is not accessible for wheeled mobility users (wheelchairs, walkers). It is also unsafe for visually impaired and for other folks with balance issues.

Two changes can make the town attain the current best practices for accessibility: provide a surface such as poured-in-place (PIP) under the play structures and provide access to make 51 percent of the elevated components accessible to wheelchair users.

If we don’t actively make an effort to include children and caretakers with assisted mobility now in these designs, then we are knowingly excluding them.

Play is for everyone. To quote my younger son, who was 4 at the time, who addressed kids staring at his older brother years ago, "That's my brother Jake. He can't walk and he can't talk, but he can play." It was at an accessible playground, and by the end of the hour, they were all playing together. That's how I want Arlington to be.

Jan. 3, 2019: Community's views about indoor recreational space sought

This letter to the editor was published Monday, March 7, 2022.