Indiana’s first boundless playground opened in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Friday, and everything from the play equipment to the ground itself has been designed to allow children with disabilities and without to play together in an inclusive setting. The playground, called “Taylor’s Dream,” began as an idea from a little girl named Taylor Reuille. When 11-year-old Taylor realized that there were many kids with disabilities who couldn’t play at playgrounds in her community, she and her mother Casey Booher researched and found that a boundless playground would offer amazing play opportunities for children with and without disabilities, including those with physical, sensory, developmental and cognitive disabilities. “We’ve got to do this, Mom,” Casey Booher recalls her daughter saying. “We have to.” After years of fundraising and hard work, the playground is now a reality, and features a revolutionary accessible surface called Playground Grass.
Playground Grass by ForeverLawn is an artificial grass surfacing system designed for beauty, safety, and accessibility in playground environments. The system offers a soft, grass-like surface, combined with a padded sub-surface that provides an ASTM safety rating to fall heights of 12 feet. The texture and appearance of the grass contributes to the tactile and visual sensory perception of the children, and the even, stable surface provided by Playground Grass is ADA accessible, allowing wheelchairs, braces, and other assistive equipment to access the facility easily and safely. When used to connect barrier-free play elements like those found at Taylor’s Dream, Playground Grass contributes to a truly boundless play experience.
50-year-old Sherry Woodman had the opportunity to play on a playground for the first time in her life at the grand opening of Taylor’s Dream on Friday. “I’m a disabled parent and I couldn’t come when they were little and play with them anywhere on a playground because I couldn’t get through with the mulch, you know mulch is really hard for wheelchair tires and stuff,” said Woodman. “And so not only are kids going to be able to come here and play that have disabilities, but parents with disabilities are going to be able to come here and feel like normal parents and be able to just enjoy their kids. I didn’t leave here till I’d been on every part of the playground, I like I wanted to do it all.”
the playground’s equipment comes from Playworld Systems with Playworld Midstates as the consultants. “We are excited that our equipment is helping to make Taylor’s dream a reality,” said Ian Proud, research manager for Playworld Systems. “Playground equipment plays a vital role in the social development of all children and everyone involved in building Fort Wayne’s newest recreational area has done an outstanding job of bringing inclusive play to local residents.”
Taylor’s Dream at Kreager Park has three pods of playground equipment and activity areas, a splash pad, accessible parking, ramps and walkways, and a picnic pavilion.
The new play area features:
The Alpha Pod, designed for younger children (2 – 5 years), provides opportunities for parallel play, group and solitary play. It also encourages role playing, socialization and creative, imaginative play. Educational panels help children identify shapes and colors.
The Beta Pod, designed for children ages 2 – 12 years old, provides an intriguing, multi-sensory themed play area featuring equipment from Playworld Systems’ Origins product line, play elements and site amenities that seamlessly blend active outdoor play with nature. A fossilized T-Rex “skeleton” from Playworld Systems’ Origins™ line will encourage children to imagine themselves as archaeologists, while NEOS® 360 promotes competition and teamwork by combining video game speed with aerobic activity for users of all abilities.
The Gamma Pod, designed for older children (5 – 12 years), offers broad opportunities for parallel play, group and solitary play. It also encourages role playing, socialization and creative, imaginative play. The keystone of this pod is Playworld’s Aero Glider, a multi-user rocker that provides enough room for two wheelchair users to sit side-by-side. The unique stepping platform on both ends provides an opportunity for more kids to play and increases the motion and fun. High rear rails allow adults to assist with the gliding motion while experiencing the enjoyment themselves. There are also seats on each end so that all users can enjoy the swaying motion.
The playground took four years to build, which consisted of a lot of fundraising and hard work by Taylor, the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, and the community. Taylor and her family personally raised $10,000 through community and school fundraising, and the City of Fort Wayne provided $250,000 toward the playground fund. But when Taylor discovered that the playground would cost over a million dollars to build, she “thought it would be virtually impossible.” However, with the help of the community, the city, and donations from other sources, they were able to raise the money.
A large part of the funds to build the park came from a grant from the Pepsi Refresh Challenge, a competition that the park won thanks to a huge effort by Taylor’s family and the community of Fort Wayne. The park beat out entries from larger communities, due to the relentless work and voting of those involved, and brought vital funds and exposure to the project. According to the Pepsi Refresh Challenge website, the grant program funds “amazing ideas that refresh the world,” and Taylor’s Dream certainly fit the bill.
According to Sarah Nichter of Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation, her department couldn’t be more pleased with the ForeverLawn surface. “The Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department is in the business of creating and maintaining playgrounds. We have some fabulous facilities — but the ForeverLawn set our Boundless Playground apart from all the others! Not only is it beautiful, setting off our brightly colored equipment, but it also gives children and adults with disabilities the chance to play with their peers. I believe this type of surfacing will become a standard for many playgrounds in the future,” said Nichter.
Adrianne Lyon, director of children’s services at Turnstone Center for Children and Adults With Disabilities said allowing all kids to play together will provide a sense of inclusiveness for children with disabilities, and will get other children used to interacting with them. “It sort of levels the playing ground for everybody,” said Lyon. “We all get to play together.”
Now that Taylor is 15, some suggested that she may be too old to play on the playground that she dreamed up. Taylor responded, “It’s never too late to be on a playground for the first time. I’ll still be playing here at 90 years old.”