A new accessible playground for both disabled and able-bodied children and adults is now available to the community at The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Park campus in Long Beach. The playground, developed by the university’s Technology Learning Center (TLC), was dedicated Dec. 4 after a donation of $21,000 was made by the Lions Clubs International Foundation to purchase equipment for the facility.
“This playground provides an opportunity for all kids, particularly children with disabilities, to have a place to play and be physically active,” said Dr. Royal Walker, executive director of the Southern Miss Institute for Disability Studies. “It is an excellent model of how a local partnership with such exemplary organizations as the Lions Clubs International Foundation and the university can serve collaboratively in providing support to the local community, including children with disabilities and their families.”
In developing the layout of the playground, the use of wheelchairs and walkers were considered so as to allow enough space for play and interaction. One of the first developments administered was the surface of the playground. Special pavers were installed beneath the grass to allow wheelchairs easier movement around the playground.
Ashley-Nicole Ross Flowers, coordinator of recreational services and assistive technology specialist at the TLC, served as designer for the playground. In designing each specialized space on the playground, Flowers said she kept the parent, caretaker and, most importantly, the child in mind.
“This playground was designed to encourage meetings and exchanges between children and caretakers who may normally have very few contacts and interactions. With all the stations on the playground, and the possibility of more additions to come, we are helping meet these children’s needs and helping them reach beyond their limitations through new experiences. We hope this playground helps all participants grow on a personal level.”
Appealing to all five senses, the playground features raised sand and water tables, a music station and raised planters, which are currently growing ginger, rosemary and mint. With the raised playground equipment, children in wheelchairs can easily sit at adjustable tables to play music, create sand structures and play board games, like checkers or chess.
In addition to the adjustable tables, an adapted slide has been installed on the playground to allow better accessibility for children in wheelchairs. The slide allows the caretaker to roll the child to the to the top of the slide, transfer them to a platform connected to the chute, then concludes to an elevated platform so the child will be at a height providing easy transition back to the wheelchair. The angle of the slide was also designed to not allow excessive momentum when sliding down.
Howard A. Jenkins, past director of the Lions Clubs International Foundation and Hurricane Katrina Steering Committee member, worked with the TLC to make the playground possible.
“Once this presentation was given to me by Nancy Ann Sherman and Vicky Bond as a possible project, it was obvious that this would be one of high priority and would capture the interest of Lions worldwide, as well as local citizens,” Jenkins said. “The very nature of providing specialized toys for children and equipment to adults alike touched a chord in my heart. On behalf of Lions Clubs International Foundation and the Lions of Mississippi, we congratulate TLC on the success of this project”.
The TLC is part of the Institute for Disability Studies, Mississippi’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Research, Education and Service. The center serves children and adults with disabilities through assistive technology, evaluation, consultation and recreation.
Additional space is available around the playground for future stations. The TLC is looking for individuals and organizations who would like to sponsor a station. This includes monetary donations to purchase additional equipment or contributing labor assistance to construct new stations.
“We welcome other local organizations to join us in expanding this effort,” said Walker.
For more information about the Southern Miss Technology Learning Center, call 228.214.3400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.