In April 2019, we took our son Grant to a local playground for a playdate with friends. He was 2.5 and this was his first real trip to the park to play. We told Grant excitedly about all the fun things he'd be able to do - go down a slide, swing and run with friends. He smiled and jabbered the rest of the car ride excited for the adventure. When we arrived at the park, our playdate excitement was quickly extinguished.
Background: Grant has a rare genetic disorder that limits his physical development. He uses a specialized walker called a gait trainer to get around independently. When he's in the gait trainer, he is free to move around and often runs from point A to B. Sometimes, he'll gain enough speed to pick up his feet and let the wheels carry him a few yards.
As a family, we rely on Grant being able to use his gait trainer to gain independence as well as build age-appropriate relationships. Grant knows he's different from the other kids, and doesn't want mom and dad carrying him when no else is being carried.
Back to our playdate, we were relying on Grant using his gait trainer to play with family friends. When we got out of the car, there was a long walk over curbs, bricks and uneven sidewalks to even get to the play area. Ryan and I decided to carry Grant and the gait trainer to the playground so that Grant didn't tire out before he ever got started.
After we arrived at the playground, toting an antsy 2.5 year old and an awkward walker, we saw a bigger problem for Grant...mulch. Mulch makes it nearly impossible for Grant to use his gait trainer. The loose wood chips get stuck in the wheels - locking them. By this time, our friends are waving and Grant is getting anxious to play. We carry the 2.5 year old and awkward walker through the mulch and closer to the play structure which has a single ramp followed by multiple steps and bridges that are impassable in his walker. By this point, Grant is frustrated that he has to be carried, Ryan is sore and tired from carting the gait trainer around the park, and I feel like I've failed Grant by taking him somewhere he can't play.
That night after Grant went to bed, Ryan and I vowed to find a solution to the playground problem.
We initially thought that just adding poured rubber would fix it. But poured rubber isn't a solution if there isn't any other accessible equipment.
We spent the next few weeks researching accessible playgrounds learning more and more about inclusive playgrounds. These playgrounds were incredible and designed to serve the entire community - not just those with physical disabilities. They paid special attention to sensory processing disorders and the needs of all children. In fact, the more we learned about inclusive playgrounds, the more we realized that traditional playgrounds aren't built for non-traditional children.
At that time, we both knew that bringing an inclusive playground to Perrysburg wasn't a want, it was a need. Not just for Grant, but for other families with kids with special needs. We want to create a safe space for typically developing children to play alongside kids like our Grant. To learn how to appreciate each other's difference and support each other's challenges.