Belvidere resident Alex Ackman doesn’t let his disabilities keep him from having fun. The 22-year-old is proud to be one of dozens of people who regularly use the Belvidere Park District’s new Bloom Playground.
The playground, completed in late October in Belvidere Park, incorporates sensory tools for learning, wheelchair accessibility, larger swings for users and is open to all, disabled or not.
“I like the slides,” he said. I like going down them fast.”
It’s not just slides Ackman likes to use at the district’s first universal playground, which offers equipment that can be used by people with or without disabilities. He also likes the satisfaction of helping kids find the fun.
While Ackman is familiar with the district’s universal playground, there are others who aren’t. That could change when Bloom Playground is officially opened Tuesday, more than six months after its completion. The district spent about $250,000 out of its special recreation fund to construct the area last summer. The equipment and the layout of the playground go beyond requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Deanna Doty, the district’s superintendent of recreation.
“We have a lot of children with autism, Down syndrome and developmental delays,” said Kelly Doane, lead counselor for the district’s after-school Club Horizon program. “They are very down-to-earth, and our kids are very much like you and I. This playground allows everyone to do so much more and have more access to get onto the playground. We’re very fortunate to have this resource here.”
Jen Jacky, Boone County manager for RAMP, a group that offers services and advocates for people with disabilities, was a member of the committee responsible for selecting the location of the playground. She often takes her 2½-year-old daughter, who isn’t disabled, to the park to play with other kids.
“It’s truly open to everybody,” she said. “It’s accessible to people who might have a cognitive disability, whose parent might be in a wheelchair, to anyone. They can go and be on the playground with their children.”
Staff writer Betsy López Fritscher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-544-3452.