New, all-inclusive playground caters to children with disabilities

A new, all-inclusive playground opened at Elver Park and hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday for its opening.

The playground gives a chance for people of all ages with many disabilities the opportunity to enjoy a playground. Madison Parks initiated the idea with the Department of Civil Rights in an effort to be more inclusive.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway spoke Friday, along with other officials who worked to make a playground for everyone.

“Being an inclusive playground … it tries to break down as many barriers as it can,” said Eric Knepp, park superintendent for the city of Madison.

Knepp said children were included in the design of the playground, too. The playground uses a color theme with red, green and blue, and each represents a different kind of playground equipment and its accessibility.

One of Knepp’s favorite parts of the playground is the colored stream with plastic crocodiles that runs across the 8,000 square-foot (7.43 acre) park. Knepp said a 6-year-old came up with the idea and he was happy to comply.

Other park features include a poured-in-place contiguous rubber play surface, entrances that are wheelchair accessible, a Braille word station, respite pods, accessible bathrooms and a ship that resembles a swing

“What really makes that ship special, is that if someone’s in a wheelchair … this kind of emulates [a swing],” Knepp said.

Knepp explained that some playground equipment is meant to make children feel included. The Braille word station, for example, isn’t meant to teach people Braille, but rather to make those who use Braille feel included at the playground.

Madison is the top in the nation for the number of parks with 180. All of them reach or exceed the Americans with Disabilities Act standards for playgrounds, but Knepp said that’s not enough.

“We’re not all the same. And that’s what’s beautiful, right?” Knepp said. “We can all come together here, have fun, play in a beautiful park and recognize the intrinsic value in doing that together.”

Madison Parks now has two playgrounds that are all-inclusive, and it plans on adding three more. Possible host park options include Rennebohm, Goodman and Warner parks. Factors like proximity are important when choosing a park, Knepp said. He said Madison Parks tries to offer community members a playground within five to seven minutes driving time, if not closer.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, artist Jeff Repko showed off his statue, “Momental.” Repko said the statue is meant to represent a diversity of Legos, just how the new playground is representative and inclusive of a diversity of children.

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