Southern Indiana to get another playground focused on accessibility and inclusivity
For children with disabilities, traditional playgrounds often present barriers, whether that be issues with mobility aids or a lack of sensory spaces. Some Southern Indiana communities are working to change that so children of all abilities can play equally.
Charlestown will soon have a new inclusive playground after the city received a $150,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana (CFSI).
Greenway Park will undergo a $366,000 transformation, using the CFSI grant, around $60,00 from Bluegrass Recreation and funds from the city.
The park’s current equipment was installed in 2002 and acts as a central greenspace for community members.
“We have so many events that go on here, whether it’s weddings in the gazebo or picnics in the pavilions. Whatever is happening here, this playground is a central element, and now it’s going to be a central element that is more welcoming than it has ever been before,” Charlestown Mayor Treva Hodges said.
City officials originally intended to just replace the outdated playground equipment. During the planning process, Hodges revisited Charlestown’s parks master plan.
“One of the most important features that came out of that plan was the desire, the need, to make sure children of all ability levels had fair access to be able to play,” Hodges said.
The accessible equipment is more expensive than traditional equipment, but Hodges said the additional cost is well worth the benefits.
“I want all our visitors, all of our residents, regardless of their age or their ability level to make themselves know they are welcome in Charlestown,” Hodges said. “They have a place here, they have spaces here.”
One of the biggest changes coming to the park is new flooring that will make it easier for people using wheelchairs and other mobility aids to traverse the playground.
“A lot of you probably don’t realize, if you don’t have a child in a wheelchair or in a walking device, this mulch alone is a barrier for us to even get to swing or get to a slide,” said Andrea Frazier, whose daughter, Morgan, uses mobility aids.
Frazier was one of many parents who participated in focus groups about the playground redesign.
Other accessible additions to the playground include slides and swings that guardians can use alongside their children, ramps for mobility aids, and sensory-friendly areas.
Construction is expected to begin in early 2023, with a goal to open to the public by summer.
“I'm super excited, not only for myself and Morgan, but for future generations to come here to Charlestown to live here, work here and play here,” Frazier said.
The “Greenway Glow Up” isn’t the first accessible park initiative to come to Southern Indiana over the past year.
“With this grant program, we have solely focused on grants and projects that transform our region. We want our community to be open and welcoming to all types of people,” said Linda Speed, CFSI’s president and CEO.
In May, Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park in New Albany opened its accessible playground. CFSI awarded that project $70,000 in grant funding last year.
Former Floyd County Parks Superintendent Roger Jeffers was one of the people behind the playground’s construction. He said it was the first in the area to be built with a focus on accessibility.
When the playground opened, students with disabilities from a nearby elementary school were invited to “break in the park.”
“The neatest thing about it wasn’t the smiles on [the children’s] faces, but the smiles on their parents’ faces,” Jeffers said.
Jeffers said many parents had not been able to see their children play so freely on a playground due to accessibility issues.
“This is the ultimate here, this is what it’s all about. This is why we do this job, to see kids and adults being able to come out and interact with each other safely,” Jeffers said.
He said children across the ability spectrum have been able to play together, which helps normalize children with disabilities for their non-disabled peers.
Frazier said play is essential for all children.
“I think it’s something that we all take for granted, right?,” Frazier said. “We all probably have a childhood memory of playing on a playground, of being with our friends. But sometimes that’s not a reality for all kids.”
With accessible playgrounds becoming more commonplace, Frazier hopes barriers will be removed so all children can create those types of memories.
Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.