Southern Indiana will have another playground focused on accessibility and inclusivity – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville

For children with disabilities, traditional playgrounds often present barriers, whether it’s issues with mobility aids or a lack of sensory spaces. Some communities in southern Indiana are working to change that so kids of all abilities can play the same way.

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, approximately $60,000 from Bluegrass Recreation and city funds.

The park’s current equipment was installed in 2002 and serves as a central green space for community members.

“We have so many events happening here, from weddings in the gazebo to picnics in the pavilions. Whatever happens here, this playground is a focal point, and now it will be a more welcoming focal point than it has ever been before,” Charlestown Mayor Treva Hodges said.

City officials originally intended to simply replace outdated playground equipment. During the planning process, Hodges revisited the Charlestown Parks Master Plan.

“One of the biggest features that came out of this plan was the desire, the need, to make sure kids of all skill levels had equitable access to play,” Hodges said.

Accessible equipment is more expensive than traditional equipment, but Hodges said the extra cost is well worth the benefits.

“I want all of our visitors, all of our residents, regardless of age or ability level, to let everyone know that they are welcome to Charlestown,” Hodges said. “They have a place here, they have spaces here.”

One of the biggest changes to the park is new flooring that will make it easier for people in wheelchairs and other mobility aids to traverse the play area.

“Many of you probably don’t realize that if you don’t have a child in a wheelchair or a walker, that mulch alone is an obstacle for us, even when swinging or walking to a slide,” Andrea said. Frazier, whose daughter, Morgan, uses mobility aids.

Frazier was one of many parents who took part 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 areas.

Construction is expected to begin in early 2023, with a goal of opening to the public by summer.

“I’m super excited, not just for me 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 in the past year.

“With this grant program, we have focused only 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, President and CEO of CFSI.

In May, Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park in New Albany opened its accessible playground. The CFSI awarded this project $70,000 in grants last year.

Former Floyd County Parks Superintendent Roger Jeffers was one of the people behind the construction of the playground. He said it was the first in the area to be built by putting the focus on accessibility.

When the playground opened, pupils with disabilities from a nearby primary school were invited to “take a break in the park”.

“The most interesting thing about it wasn’t the smiles on [the children’s] faces, but the smiles on their parents’ faces,” Jeffers said.

The playground at Kevin Hammersmith Memorial Park in New Albany includes several ramps for children in wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

Jeffers said many parents have not been able to see their children play as freely on a playground due to accessibility issues.

“It’s the ultimate here, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why we’re doing this work, to see children and adults being able to come out and interact with each other safely,” Jeffers said.

He said children of all abilities 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 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 this is not a reality for all children.

With accessible playgrounds becoming more common, Frazier hopes the barriers will be removed so that all children can create these kinds of memories.

Harold B. McConnell