With only a handful of wheelchair-accessible playground equipment in Hamilton County, some parents are asking for more access for children with disabilities.
Karen Black lives in Carmel and says her 16-year-old son Henry loves to be outside.
“He loves basketball. He loves any kind of sports,” she said. “He loves to play as often as he can, on the playground or wherever.”
Black says Henry was born as a premature twin. His sibling didn’t survive and due to his early birth, Henry lives with cerebral palsy.
“Even though Henry is challenged physically, he’s very cognitive and many of his peers with cerebral palsy are very cognitive, and they understand the fact that they’re are not able to enjoy the playground equipment like their peers,” she said.
Only one Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation park has a wheelchair swing: “Everybody’s Playground” inside River Heritage Park.
“It’s definitely difficult to go to any neighborhood parks, even the park at his schools,” explained Black.
“Simply because the older kiddos like Henry get, you can’t always transfer them out of their wheelchair and place them on the adaptive equpiment,” said Black.
Therefore, Black looks specifically for parks with equipment that Henry can use while still in his chair. While Henry said the swing at River Heritage Park was fun, Karen had to hold onto Henry’s chair and push the large platform swing, since there were no straps to buckle Henry’s chair to the swing. She says the community can do more.
“That definitely is something that needs to be increased, especially at the high school, where they have so many kiddos like Henry that are older that can’t be transferred, and there’s really not much for them to do at the high school with the equipment that’s available,” she said.
Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation CEO Michael Klitzing says his department has prioritized a variety of disability accommodation needs when designing parks.
“If there’s a need for a swing you can really get a wheelchair on, we’ll provide it. If there’s a greater focus in a particular neighborhood for autism, we’re going to focus in that way,” he explained during a tour of the newly opened Central Park, which features autism-friendly tactile activities and hideaways. The park is ADA-approved (Americans with Disabilities Act) and contains wheelchair ramps and soft-padded floors but doesn’t have the wheelchair swing Henry needs.
“We really try to make sure we’re taking care of all disabilities. So certainly for every park, when we’re building a playground, we try to get input from residents to see what types of amenities they like,” Klitzing said.
According to Klitzing, Carmel Parks and Recreation also hires an ADA specialist on every playground project. He says the department hosts adaptive summer programs like swimming classes, Special Olympics sports, and adult outdoor fitness activities.
Black says Carmel Clay Schools has wheelchair-friendly swings at Towne Meadow Elementary, but the school district declined our request for an interview.
There are other wheelchair-friendly swings at parks in Hamilton County, including Roy G. Holland Memorial Park in Fishers. Freedom Trail Park in Westfield also includes several wheelchair-friendly features and transfer stations near swings, along with Brooks School Park in Fishers.