Tower of Strength
Strong Reach Playground in Bowdon, Ga.
By Emily Tipping
"He needs special support and can't just play on any type of equipment," said the mother, noting to herself that the adaptive swing was the only piece of accessible equipment in the playground.
"Why does the boy have to play in the back of the playground?" the little girl asked.
"You know what? He shouldn't," the mom replied. "He should be able to play with everyone else."
The little girl responded, "Yes. He needs to be able to reach the monkey bars so he will be strong."
"Would you like to build a playground?" Jennifer Daniel asked her daughter, launching several years of fundraising, research and community effort, which ultimately resulted in an inclusive playground for Bowdon, Ga.
In the counties surrounding Bowdon—including Carroll, Heard, Haralson and Coweta counties in Georgia and Cleburne and Randolph counties in Alabama, nearly 2,000 children ages 5 to 15 have at least one type of disability, according to the U.S. Census of 2000. Those disabilities make it hard for kids to play on traditional playground equipment, and those children are often relegated to special, separate equipment, if there is any accessible equipment at all.
Seeing a boy swinging in the back of their playground, Daniel and her daughters decided that it wasn't enough. Daniel turned to the Internet to read about and research accessible playgrounds, eventually ending up on the Web site for Boundless Playgrounds, a nonprofit organization that helps communities develop playgrounds that provide play for kids of all abilities. Daniel gathered a team of people together to start raising money, following the procedures suggested by Boundless Playgrounds.
"We had a dreaming and design party for the kids, which went over very well," Daniel said. "Then we had a values session for the parents. We got a group of parents together to ask them what they'd like to see, which included things like shade, places to sit and a few other things. Then we worked on the design with some of the pediatric therapists who work at Southern Therapy. They told us which elements would be best for kids with every kind of disability—what would really be accessible for them and what they probably wouldn't use."
Armed with the children's dreams, the parents' wishes and the therapists' advice about what would be truly accessible and how different types of play equipment would develop strength for kids with special needs, Daniel and the Strong Reach Playground team came up with a design and sent out a request for proposals to several manufacturers.