Raleigh resident Carolyn Baughman had wondered about the new Method Park playground, with its long ramps up to the sliding boards and section of special swings with back support.
City of Raleigh officials snipped the ribbon to open the new playground last week, one of just a handful in the area specifically designed to allow children with disabilities to play alongside typical children.
It’s a great idea, Baughman said, watching her three grandsons race across the spongy new turf. They don’t have disabilities, but the park also allows children of different ages to play together more effectively.
“We’re thrilled to run into this here,” Baughman said. “Definitely, this is a treat.”
The new site is an official Boundless Playground, from a nonprofit Connecticut-based developer of “inclusive” playgrounds. The city footed $125,000 of the bill, with a $50,000 grant from the CVS Caremark All Kids Can Program covering the rest.
It’s an appropriate addition to an “evolving” historic neighborhood like the Method Road area, Councilman Thomas Crowder said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony last week.
“Universal design is going to be key to future development,” Crowder said.
Method Park now features sound-based toys for sight-impaired children and wheelchair-friendly ramps to the sliding boards, among other amenities.
When children with disabilities are able to play with the general population, they hone social and emotional skills not developed in a classroom. And the learning goes both ways, said Patti Beardsley, child intellectual and developmental disabilities specialist with Wake County Human Services.
“Children need to be able to learn how to manage in our world with lots of different people – we’re not all alike,” Beardsley said.
Having the playground also helps keep families of children with disabilities from becoming isolated, said Carlyle Johnson, an administrator with Human Services.
“The whole concept of what we do as a modern mental health system is predicated on the notion of trying to get people involved in their community,” Johnson said. “They are no longer sequestered away, but part of the community and able to participate in all aspects. That is part of how they grow up to have the most meaningful lives they can.”
Only one other Boundless playground exists in Raleigh, at Marsh Creek Park off of New Hope Road, but a handful of other playgrounds in the area have embraced similar themes.
The Marla Dorrel Park in Cary is a Kids Together playground with the same philosophy of inclusion. Extras such as raised sandboxes help children in wheelchairs play alongside their peers. And two parents teamed with the city last year in hopes of converting the playground at Laurel Hills Park off Edwards Mill Road to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
That effort is stalled in the fundraising stages, with about $270,000 of the $2.2 million project raised by the community so far and another $450,000 in labor promised by the city. Project partners at the Frankie Lemmon Foundation asked the Raleigh City Council to be considered for $1.5 million in bond money as a shovel-ready project to be completed in late 2012. The foundation is unsure when they will hear back from the council, said Traci Cortez, director of events and administration.
So far, the existing playgrounds are popular, and parents say they would love to see more.
“I want my children to be around other children with other needs,” parent Mary Henson said. “It teaches us to accept each other for who we are.”