Feature Article - October 2009
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Meeting Needs

Ensuring Accessibility

By Richard Zowie


he recreation industry is growing as people search for places and ways to relax, have fun and get exercise. For some, it's to the gym for a game of hoops or to run on the treadmill. Others like to go to the pool for a swim. Some like to go to a park where their children can burn off energy at the playground.

Some who love to exercise aren't as fortunate. Physical and mental limitations prevent them from being able to participate in the same activities as others. That has been changing with the passage of laws like the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, as more and more recreation centers work to make their facilities accessible for those with disabilities. Others are now building facilities targeted at those with disabilities. There are even companies that provide products and services designed to make it easier for the disabled to participate in recreational and sports activities of all kinds. Many gains have been made, but some industry experts say far more work needs to be done.

Play for All

In October 2005, Sacramento opened an accessible playground. The Accessible Playground at Southside Park, located in California's capital at 6th and U Streets, features a zero-entry wading pool and accessible piers. The playground is also integrated and intergenerational, designed to be for children with and without disabilities and for their parents, grandparents and caregivers.

The park was a collaboration between the city manager, United Cerebral Policy and Sutter Health. According to City of Sacramento administrative officer Bonnie Williamson, who served as the playground's project manager, this accessible playground replaced an older playground. It features rubberized surfacing, fully-accessible ramps on the structures, accessible swings, and poles with foot pedals that can be stood on while the participant spins.

The spin feature was designed especially for autistic children, Williamson said. "We also designed the playground, such as the swings, to be accessible and integrated," she added. "Kids with special needs can swing side-by-side with able-bodied kids."

Other features of Southside Park include a wheelchair-accessible raceway that's like a racetrack and a zero-entry wading pool with a splash feature. There's also a sensory garden. There's even an educational aspect to the park. At eye level the playground features Braille, designed to introduce kids to Braille and help them learn more about it.

Williamson said it took about eight months to design the facility. They received public input for what she described as a smooth process and didn't face many design challenges.

"We had a receptive neighborhood (at Southside Park)," she said. "The park's central to downtown and is a regional draw."

In the four years the park's been open, it's received rave reviews. The kids love it, and they receive many play dates at the park (mostly spring through fall due to Sacramento's winters). Parents bring their children while schools will come in groups.

"Parents like getting together and talking to each other about their kids and the challenges in raising them," she said. "We get children from nearby neighborhoods and from all over, including children with their siblings with disabilities."

What's more, Southside Park probably won't need any upgrades in the near future. The firm that designed the park came up with plans for $1.2 million, whereas Sacramento originally had budgeted $200,000 to $300,000 for it. But they liked what they saw with the bigger, more expensive design. To raise further funds for the larger design, they held off on construction until additional funds came in.

"The fundraisers stepped up and did a lot for us," Williamson said, adding they also received funds from local municipalities. "We ended up building what we wanted to build and didn't have to master plan it."