Playground changes will aid the disabled

February 23, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The Columbia Association is planning to make some of its 132 children's playgrounds more accessible to children with disabilities, starting at the Swansfield Neighborhood Center in Harper's Choice village.

The association has proposed including $12,000 in its fiscal 1995 capital budget to plan and design "tot lots" at Swansfield and at the Stevens Forest Neighborhood Center with play equipment for children with disabilities.

The playgrounds also will get improvements such as the leveling of a pathway grade to allow better access for children who use wheelchairs and parents assisting them.

The existing Swansfield site would be modified, and a new play area would be built at the Stevens Forest center to meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The association's goal is to provide over the next few years at least one tot lot in each of Columbia's 10 villages that is accessible to children with disabilities, said Fred Pryor, director of the association's Open Space Management division.

"I know we can have a number of these, enough to fill whatever need exists in Columbia," Mr. Pryor said.

The division has studied existing and potential tot lot sites, identifying 14 primary and alternative sites. A report on possible sites has been sent to village boards for their suggestions.

Many of Columbia's tot lots were excluded from consideration because they are along pathways in wooded areas where the terrain is steep and other natural obstacles restrict accessibility, Mr. Pryor said.

In selecting sites suitable for improvements, land development managers considered location, pathway slopes, space and topographic conditions, and the availability of nearby parking and shade.

The tot lots would be designed for use by all children, not exclusively for those with disabilities, Mr. Pryor said.

"Philosophically, [the association is] really in the right place," said Nicholas Girardi, principal of the Cedar Lane School in Harper's Choice, which serves children with developmental and physical disabilities.

Mr. Girardi said it is important that children with disabilities be able to play with children who are not disabled in a "community setting," and for parents with both disabled and nondisabled children to be able to take the family to one place to play.

Mr. Pryor said the association is following the trend in education, emphasizing the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream activities.

Examples of custom-designed equipment are pull-up bars that children could use from a wheelchair and an elevated sandbox, Mr. Pryor said.

The association would consider safety factors in purchasing equipment, he said.

Money for purchasing new equipment has not been proposed in the $5.8 million capital budget, which the Columbia Council plans to review tomorrow night and adopt next week.

The association also is joining the county Department of Recreation and Parks in a project to make the tot lot at Cedar Lane Park near Cedar Lane School more accessible.

The association has constructed a wider than standard paved path from the school to the park and will contribute $10,000 toward the purchase of play equipment designed for children with disabilities.

Construction on the playground is expected to begin in the spring or summer, Mr. Pryor said.

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