Some of my fondest memories of childhood were the countless hours I spent at the playground with my friends, in fact, some of my life long friends I met at the playground. When I had my two first children, of course I could not wait to share that same experience with them.
We must have spent hundreds of hours at the playground close to our home. For my kids it was where they made their first friend. I remember watching their faces smile and shine when another child asked them to play and their own willingness to play with anyone that was there. It is amazing to see how young children can solve problems on their own in a group and to witness their imaginations in the works – making up games and including any kid who wants to join in. Often we left not knowing the names of the kids they played with, but that was part of the fun – to wonder ‘who will I meet next time?’
Then our daughter Madison was born and the way we viewed life and experiences would forever be changed. When you have a child with a disability everything is a new challenge. For our family any outing became difficult and sometimes impossible due to lack of accessibility. I soon learned a day at the playground would also not be possible for Madison. On our very first visit we were heart broken to find that the sand used as surfacing prevented me from getting Madison anywhere close to the play equipment. There was no way to push her specialty stroller through the sand. It was such a disappointment – a simple pleasure for most mothers and children would be an unachievable experience for Madison and me.
It wasn’t just one playground in our city that we could not access, it was every playground – made inaccessible because of sand, rocks, lack of any ramps, and no accessible play equipment. Even with a little online search of local parks and recreation areas I could not find a truly accessible playground anywhere in our city, county or the Twin Cities Metro Area.
As I reflect on our time with Madison I smile, remembering how much she enjoyed being around people and being outside. I think about how she would have smiled and flourished at all the different things she cold have touched and the kids she could have interacted with, or even the feeling of motion that was undiscovered to her.
As I write this post I am watching my youngest daughter play at the playground – smiling and laughing as she discovers new things and the amazement in her eyes as she conquers something that she could not do a year ago. But I am now acutely aware of the lack of accessibility as we visit playgrounds in our area. With the happiness of watching my daughter also comes the feeling of sadness, thinking of all the children who are missing these experiences due to lack of accessibility. Something that, together as a community, we can surly overcome.
Although Madison is no longer with us, we will continue to work on bringing childhood play to everyone by creating playgrounds that are accessible to all!