The View from the Playground: A community member’s perspective on inclusion
Dreams Start on the Playground
By John Mullan, President of PlayCreation
What does it mean to a child with a disability to be accepted as is? What does it mean for a buddy with typical abilities to understand that the desire for laughter, friendship and play is universal? What does it mean for us to have a generation growing up dwelling on what makes people similar, not what makes us different?
I recently attended a community playground design workshop sponsored Shane’s Inspiration. They were helping the City of Gig Harbor, Washington voice their design ideas for their very own fully-accessible, inclusive playground. Spending just a few hours with kids with disabilities and their parents made me wonder why it has taken our society so long to realize the importance of inclusion.
Can you believe it took until 1990 to sign the ADA? Just as with women voting, or blacks being 3/5 human (the Three-Fifths Compromise is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution)…we look back and think “how absurd that we would exclude a vital portion of the population for so long.” What I want to know is what are we doing about it now, in our parks, at these magical islands we call playgrounds?
Ever ask a six year old if she wants to go to the playground? Just watch her eyes get big and smile widen. The playground draws kids in. And no kid should be excluded from that…not only because “it’s the right thing to do” but also because dreams start on the playground. Which brings us to the dream of a playground where kids with disabilities and typical abilities have the opportunity to play side-by-side.
I was amazed, at the community design session, by how much thought and effort these children put into designing their playgrounds. They were as obsessed as I am about detailing where everything goes, and their imagination blew me away. There were kids with disabilities and without, armed with crayon and paper, creating fantastic playgrounds. Group labels and societal classifications did not matter (and damn well they shouldn’t).
Once this playground is open and the kids’ design ideas come to fruition, Shane’s Inspiration will continue to support the playground and the community by helping launch two programs that use the playground as a classroom for learning acceptance, inclusion and understanding. Through a simple day of play and connection, our kids will learn about themselves and others at the playground.
So when we talk about dreams, friendship, achievement and inclusion starting on the playground…it is important to consider this in the context of what it means to the future of all the kids who are afforded these opportunities and more importantly, these programs. A FOX News investigation in 2009 said that, according to several disability rights advocates, more than half of Americans with disabilities are unemployed, and the reality is that it may be as high as 80%.
Here is what Brad Thornton, the Director of Project Development for Shane’s Inspiration, said recently: “These playgrounds are the vehicle to allow the programs to eliminate bias. One study cited that 80 to 90 percent of the adults with disabilities in the workplace lose their jobs due to lack of social skills. This generation will be more accepting, more knowledgeable and more welcoming to people with disabilities.”
It’s a shame that the number one reason a worker with a disability will lose their job is a lack of social skills. It’s a blessing that we as a society are finally advocating for the rights of all and do so in such a way as to create these playground classrooms where we can learn acceptance before prejudice.
Here is what I am advocating for this generation: use these incredible communities to lead and influence the Parks and Recreation landscape. Let’s show our kids how independence, self-understanding, confidence and a sense of contribution can all start on the playground, as long as we all have access to and are included on it.
Yes, build it. Then show them, at the human level, we all want the same things and that we all have dreams. And they will come…kids and parents of all abilities. Because Dreams Start on the Inclusive Playground.
Photos by: Akiko Oda
To read the full article about Gig Harbor’s Design Workshop, please visit: