A playground where “no one is left out”

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in September, Movement Junction was buzzing.

Dozens of people, from toddlers to grandparents, have explored the meaningful, all-inclusive playground of Canandaigua.

Visitors included Michael Bentley and his 11-year-old son, Michael Joseph, or “MJ”, who inspired the park. When MJ was around six months old, he was diagnosed with Pallister Killian Syndrome, a rare condition affecting his speech, mobility and cognition.

Throughout his life, his parents searched for places where MJ could play with able-bodied friends, but they always failed.

“So we started a campaign, and that’s where we ended up almost five years later,” Bentley said.

The campaign, led by Bentley, his wife Nanci and MJ’s physical therapist Sonya Smith, has raised more than $1.6 million in community donations. The City of Canandaigua provided the land at 2640 Outhouse Road and more than 760 volunteers helped set up the playground in time for its opening in June.

Everything is handicapped accessible, but it also allows people of any age or ability to play together.

This socializing piece is a key part of the experience, Bentley said.

“There’s what, 75 people here now? They wouldn’t usually get the opportunity to play alongside someone who has different abilities to them,” he said.

Motion Junction is a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors. Orange, blue, and lime-green slides, swings, bucket rides, and a zipline sit on a bright blue rubberized surface that’s a dream to walk on.

A light gray rubber-encrusted path meanders through the park like a sidewalk. The color contrast was designed for people with visual impairments.

Standing at one end of the playing field, Bentley pointed out that it was an equal playing field for MJ and anyone else.

“If you look everywhere, there’s no place I can go where he can’t go in a straight posture,” he said. “So if he wanted to go to the memory garden, he and I would both have to break our upright posture to get there, whether you’re in a wheelchair, a walker, or in an upright walking position. The same way of doing it. journey is for each of us.”

Every aspect of the design has been thought through, from the parking lot to the communications center, with symbols laid out on plastic tiles for non-verbal people and a tactile map of the playing field in Braille.

Once four fully accessible restrooms and a clubhouse with a concession stand are added to the north side of the park, Motion Junction will become the first certified, universally designed playground in the United States.

Certification will be issued by the University at Buffalo Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center).

The center’s assistant director, Danise Levine, is an architect who helped design Motion Junction. She said that while the requirements imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act focus on a physical space, universal design considers the user experience.

“For the most part, universal design is just good design,” she said. “(It) addresses barriers faced by all people, including people with disabilities, children, the elderly, and any other population that the design process typically overlooks.”

In order to qualify for certificate, a site must meet a certain number, but not all of the 500 accessible solutions listed by the IDEA Center. Some of the criteria are voluntary. The center has certified other projects, such as office buildings, museums and a synagogue. Motion Junction will be the first playground to claim the accolade.

Levine encourages designers and project planners to consider incorporating universal design strategies into a project, even if they are not eligible for certification.

“If cost is a barrier, if implementation is a barrier, then all you can possibly do is always improve,” she added.

Like other sites offering inclusive recreation, Motion Junction draws visitors from across New York State and beyond. Some come from as far away as Florida and Iowa. A family from England stopped by this summer, according to Bentley.

Beginning of September. Bill Ross of Kenmore, near Buffalo, was enjoying the playground with his family and friends. They were on vacation nearby.

“We knew the kids would have a great time here, so we brought them here and they’re having fun,” he said. “Even though accessibility doesn’t really affect our kids, it’s very, very nice to see that there are parks like this.”

Ryan Spaugh is the son of one of Ross’s friends.

“I really like it,” Ryan said. “I like the way everything moves. I really like the zip line. It’s really fun.”

Bentley helped MJ out of his wheelchair so he could enjoy his favorite friendship swing. Once secured in the seat with a safety bar, Bentley jumped onto the adjacent swing and they glided through the air in unison.

“There is that smile! said Bentley, smiling at his son.

Movement Junction 4.jpg
Motion Junction is a universally designed playground for people of all ages and abilities in Canandaigua.

In another section of the park, MJ often has physical therapy sessions on a set of parallel bars. He is supported while gripping the bars. The exercise is intended to build strength.

Nearby is a ramp wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or other mobility device. It leads to a slide. What makes this slide different is the bench next to it. It is a place where someone can sit while their wheelchair is brought back.

Looking around at all the people taking advantage of a space that was just an idea a few years ago, Bentley’s voice quavered briefly as he described what it meant to him and his family.

“It’s humiliating, to say the least,” he said. “What is most important is that no one is left on the sidelines.”

Levine and Bentley said they responded to inquiries from Western New York to Texas about how communities can create their own universally designed playgrounds.

“Our real quest is to spread this across the country and the world,” Bentley said, “because it’s needed.”

Harold B. McConnell