Barrier-free parks are achievable if the intent and funding are present and the details are considered. It is important to point out that accessibility is not just about wheelchairs. It also covers improved access for many non-disabled groups such as parents with strollers, active seniors with walkers and even inexperienced cyclists. Barrier-free access means all users can enjoy the site regardless of ability, age, or social status.
Accessibility is more than just meeting code
The accessibility should start in the parking lot when a motorist becomes a pedestrian (unless admittance to the park is possible without vehicles). Meeting minimum codes for handicap parking is barely adequate; but the location in the park is as important as the number of stalls provided. Access to trails or paths that lead to activities must be convenient, or users won’t come. Logic would state that sidewalk curb cuts should be adjacent to the handicap parking, but that is often not the case.
Connectivity ties the park to its surroundings
Connectivity to playgrounds is extremely important for the health of our children. According to Recreational Management.com, “…the Journal of Community Health revealed that children with easy access to a playground (less than two-thirds of a mile from home) are approximately five times more likely to have a healthy weight than children who do not have easy access to playgrounds.” With childhood obesity on the rise, it is important that we appreciate the value of parks. Imagine that some of these children are special needs kids that rely on a caregiver for transport.
Inclusive means interaction
It has become more apparent that our communities need more playgrounds, but rather than just more, they need to provide playgrounds with inclusive play opportunities. Federal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) now require public playgrounds to include equipment, materials, and designs that provide children with disabilities the same play opportunities as able-bodied children. Children learn to interact while in play. The more inclusive the interaction, the more “normal” it is to have disabled kids playing side by side with their non-disabled counterparts. Playgrounds may one day reflect society in terms of integration. Inclusive parks benefit all facets of the community, helping us learn from each other by breaking down social and cultural barriers, and in turn helping make us better neighbors. A Chinese philosopher is purported to have said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.”