Columbia, SC Edition
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Where Play Knows NO Boundaries

Imagine a playground where a child in a power chair can swing with his brother beside him; where an autistic child can engage his senses without becoming overwhelmed; where a mother in a wheelchair can roll right up onto the playground to explore alongside her child; where children with vision or hearing impairments can play side by side with their friends.

            Plans are underway to build such a universally inclusive playground at Saluda Shoals Park—one of the first such playgrounds in the Midlands. The Saluda Shoals Foundation and Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission (ICRC) are in the midst of designing the playground and raising the $1.5 million needed, with hopes of having the playground completed by the summer of 2019.

            This initiative was spearheaded by Chapin residents Meredith and Adam Bugenske, whose son Leo was born with spinal muscular atrophy and requires 24/7 skilled care. Meredith points out that inclusive playgrounds go far beyond the features of a handicapped-accessible playground. “Often, accessible playgrounds are simply checking a box to meet ADA [the Americans with Disabilities Act] guidelines. These guidelines may encourage things like easy access or ramping, but they do not usually encompass play and interaction for all abilities,” Meredith says. “While they are accessible, inclusive playgrounds exceed requirements and also include components and aspects that encourage children of all abilities and diagnoses to play together and have fun in a safe environment.”

            Universally inclusive playgrounds are rapidly being developed and constructed across the country. The Saluda Shoals Foundation and ICRC have partnered with Shane’s Inspiration, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating inclusive playgrounds and programs that unite children of all abilities. Shane’s Inspiration is providing project development guidance from conception through completion at no cost.

            The playground will be located at the east end of the park, near the tennis facilities, and will incorporate elements of nature, including a fish sculpture that appears to be jumping from water. This bright and colorful play space will feature several creative play areas designed to engage all senses.

            Two community meetings were held in October and a multitude of design ideas are being discussed, including: a treehouse play area with nooks, crannies and tunnels where children can take refuge if they become overwhelmed; a sensory play area that might include a fossil wall, sculpted rock wall, and a rock/shell basin; a hillside slope with a variety of slides; several climbing and balancing challenges for all ability levels; a sound garden allowing children to collaborate with musical features and nature sounds; and several types of swings—from toddler bucket swings to traditional swings to a “Sway Fun” for children using wheelchairs and their playmates to enjoy together.

            Ultimately, the Bugenskes hope the playground will also be a place where inclusion happens naturally, where children of all abilities interact without barriers or bias. “Play looks different for every child. It is not always climbing and sliding. An inclusive playground includes elements that not only promote physical activity, but encourage social interaction and self-development by stimulating the senses,” Meredith adds. “We want more than anything for our children to grow up in a bias-free world, where the playground is a place they can engage with friends naturally.”

For more information on how you can donate, contact Dolly G. Patton at 803-213-2035 or DPatton@icrc.net.

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