Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Playgrounds Often Unwelcoming to Disabled Children Federal Law and Advocates Push for More Accessibility, Inclusion

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Playgrounds Often Unwelcoming to Disabled Children Federal Law and Advocates Push for More Accessibility, Inclusion

Article excerpt

Missy Buss, a 9-year-old who can't walk or talk, endures a 45- minute drive to the closest swing that will accommodate a wheelchair -- a treat that relaxes her shoulders and coaxes a smile.

Her mom, Wendy Grossman, thinks there would be more friends around the house if a playground near their Tarentum home allowed Missy to play alongside others.

Cheryl Dennis of Squirrel Hill talks about "the coolest" playground in the Pittsburgh area, but it's a place she can't take her son, Spencer, to play with his sisters because he has balance and coordination problems.

"We're a family with a disability," she said. "When there's something that Spencer can't do, it's often something we all can't do."

The U.S. Justice Department made access to play areas a civil right under the Americans With Disabilities Act when, in 2010, it adopted stringent standards that require playgrounds to have surfaces and equipment that can be used by disabled children. The requirements became effective last year.

Parents and advocates want more. They want "inclusive" playgrounds, spots that are fun and safe for both typical children and those with intellectual and physical disabilities.

"Play is an important social opportunity for children," said Jeni Hergenreder, an attorney with the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania." To be able to play on public playgrounds with other kids ... is important for their inclusion in all aspects of community life."

The rules of play

New federal requirements attempt to change the playground experience, from the ground a play area sits on to how play structures are connected and how children wander through them.

However, public playgrounds are not required to be up to those standards unless they were built or modified after March 15, 2012.

Many playgrounds remain unwelcoming for disabled children.

PublicSource asked Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Public Schools for a list of accessible playgrounds.

Allegheny County responded that 11 of its 73 play areas are accessible.

In those 11, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said, ramps allow children using wheelchairs or other mobility devices to move around the play equipment. Smooth, rubberized surfaces cushion falls, and on some playgrounds, swings have roller coaster-style harnesses and high backs.

"As we continue to make changes and improvements through our facilities and with services ... we will be continuing to keep accessibility as a goal," Ms. Downs said.

The city could not say which of its 132 play areas are accessible to the disabled. Safety surfaces have been or are being replaced on 32 playgrounds, according to Public Works assistant director Chuck O'Neill.

An evaluation of the playgrounds and what must be done to make them accessible will start this year, said Pittsburgh's ADA coordinator Richard Meritzer. …

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