Corrections & Clarifications: The play area at Chaparral Park will have wood chips, but there also will be hard surfaces, including paths to the play equipment. The original story incorrectly characterized some surface areas.
The Beaubiens, like other families with young children, love going to their local park on the weekends.
When 7-year-old Nicholas and 6-year-old Scott climb on the jungle gym, their father looks on proudly.
But the higher the kids climb, the more worried he becomes.
“What if they fall and I can’t get to them?” he questions.
His kids also love the swings. But if they would slip off and scrape their knees, there’s no way he could maneuver in what the kids call “hot lava” — the sand.
For 34-year-old John Beaubien, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, typical playground designs don’t work. The powered wheelchair he uses gets stuck on playground floors covered in loose wood fill.
“I’d be stuck and there’d be nothing I could do. It’s a scary thought,” Beaubien said.
In 2012, the federal government made access to play areas a civil right under the Americans With Disabilities Act. New federal requirements made it mandatory to include playground equipment, materials and designs that allow those with disabilities to more easily play alongside other children.
Since then, about 1,220 playgrounds have sprouted across the country, designed to be “universally accessible,” according to accessibleplayground.net, a site run by Let Kids Play that tracks accessible playgrounds in the U.S.
Next week, Chaparral Park in Scottsdale will join five other metro Phoenix parks that offer playgrounds tailored to children with physical, cognitive and sensory disabilities. Such parks already are available in Mesa, Chandler, Tempe and Peoria.
Upgrades to the 23-year-old playground at 5401 N. Hayden Road, which include new swings, interactive toys and other features, began in early December. Scottsdale leaders will unveil the finished product at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“People of all ages and abilities can climb, explore, discover and interact together,” said Bret Jackson, Scottsdale’s Parks and Recreation manager.
Jackson said all of Scottsdale’s 37 playgrounds are deemed accessible and meet ADA guidelines, but the $265,000 Chaparral project will be the only one in the city that goes beyond basic federal requirements.
“Access does not always guarantee inclusion, and this can result in lost opportunities for children with disabilities,” Jackson said. “We want to change that starting with this particular playground.”
From spinning to swinging: What to expect
The vibrant new playground will be under a shaded structure north of the lake, near the recreation center.
The playground has equipment that will be challenging for children of all ability levels, “making it an all-inclusive play area where everyone can participate together,” Jackson said.
There will be standard swings, along with swings with back rests and straps for kids who can’t sit unassisted. Larger swings will allow both parent and child to face each other to experience the fun together.
Another play feature will involve spinning, which is popular among children with certain cognitive disabilities. Research suggests that the experience of spinning can be helpful for children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, anxiety, autism, and other emotional or sensory issues. The sensation affects one’s limbic system and can be calming.
The playground will have equipment with panels that provide multisensory tactile experiences, and there will be a quiet area — a cozy spot for children who might get overwhelmed by the distractions and noise and need a break from playground antics.
The Chaparral playground will have wood chips — what Beaubien considers a barrier between him and his boys — but hard surfacing will be found throughout the play area and will create paths to various equipment.
Broad, flat ramps that can accommodate wheelchairs or walkers lead to the top of play structures.
Most playgrounds have features with wheelchair accessibility, but it only covers about 10 percent of the total play area, Jackson said.
“When certain kids can only watch while their friends continue on and play all over the place … that’s not inclusitivity,” he said. “We worked with our vendor to go beyond accessibility.”
Tribal grant pays for playground
The public has pushed to change the playground landscape, according to Loren Worthington, communications manager at Ability 360, a non-profit that works to educate the community about disability-related issues in central Arizona.
“There’s no question that today’s city planners are more interested in being ‘universally accepting’ than in the past. And a lot of that is because of the residents — especially families with disabilities,” Worthington said.
He said manufacturers also play a large role, developing specialized equipment that wasn’t always available.
The specialized playground equipment can be more costly. Inclusive playgrounds, according to market values, can cost from $300,000 to $800,000. A standard playground in Scottsdale typically costs the city $100,000 to $200,000, Jackson said.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community provided a grant to Scottsdale for the Chaparral upgrade.
“They’ve been great partners in this,” said Jackson, noting the tribe regularly donates money and items to the department for children.
“We didn’t have funding for a playground this year,” Jackson said. “If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to introduce a playground like this to our community.”
Scottsdale officials selected the 100-acre park, located near Hayden and Jackrabbit roads, because it was next on the list of playgrounds in the city in need of restoration, he said. City staff partnered with playground vendor Game Time, which gave the city a $70,000 discount on the project.
Partnering with the vendor’s Me2 program, founded on the the idea of inclusive playground design, Scottsdale’s play area will be the first playground in the state to be designated as a National Demonstration Site, showcasing best practices, Jackson said.
Other Valley park leaders have already expressed interest in studying Scottsdale’s new playground, he said.
The joy of being able to scoop your kids up
Worthington said Ability 360 is available to municipalities and the state if they seek help or want guidance. Often that happens after they’ve gotten complaints from residents.
The group is currently working with the state on how to make state parks more accessible and inclusive like Kartchner Caverns, which is open to most manual and motorized wheelchairs.
What is important, Worthington said, is how playgrounds are promoted.
“Cities have to be careful about what they promise and be very accurate about what accessibility they can actually provide residents,” he said.
“Yes, (cities) might have thought it was fully accessible and their heart was in the right place, but in reality, most times they are only partially accessible. When many families travel long distances based on those promises, that is frustrating,” he said.
Beaubien described his first experience with an inclusive playground as a game changer.
“It’s as simple as being able to be on the side of the slide and scoop my kids up when they go down,” he said.
Before when Nicholas and Scott would swing, Beaubien said he could only sit on the other side of the park, worried.
“I’d watch and see them struggle and all I could do was shout, ‘Just keep trying to push with your legs,’ ” he said.
“Now I can sit there and push my own kids,” he said. “I can cheer them on right next to them.”
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