A new playground planned for Bloomington's east side is designed for kids with disabilities and to bring all children together.
The fundraising effort for the special playground called Harmony Park and the equipment is being organized by four nonprofit groups: Autism McLean, Marcfirst, Bloomington-Normal Jaycees, and Max's Miles Foundation represented by Corin Chapman. During GLT's Sound Ideas she said an inclusive playground has equipment that will bring all children of all abilities together.
"I think that's the key to building a community is having interactions among everyone, not just the people who are most like yourself," said Chapman. Chapman said the special playground will also help prevent "play deprivation," which can interfere with childhood development.
She said typical surfaces like wood chips or even grass at a playground can make it "exclusive" instead of inclusive. Wood chips and grass make using mobility devices, like a wheel chair, difficult.
Jennifer Brown with the Jaycees said many playgrounds also have a step-over boundary or steps to get into the playground. Harmony Park will have a level, rubber-type surface and it will be fenced to keep children with autism from wandering away. It will also have a lot of special equipment, like a "merry-go-all." Unlike a merry-go-round, the merry-go-all has chairs allowing kids to sit up.
"Most children who have a disability may not have core strength or just overall physical strength to participate in a merry-go-round," said Brown. "But here we have high-back molded chairs that allow a child who doesn't have that core strength to sit up appropriately and we'll also have fastenings in it as well that will secure that child so they'll be able to participate in that classic joy that is a merry-go-round."
Other equipment includes a rock-n-raft, like teeter-totter but with access for a kid in a mobility device to roll into the piece of equipment. Another playground piece is called the roller slide and is designed to increase sensory input and for kids who don't necessarily have a mobility issue.
"What is really exciting about that piece of equipment is that it's safe for kids with a cochlear implant to interact with," said Brown. "So a lot of typical slides when you go to a regular park, they're plastic and they're enclosed and it's hard for those kids to enjoy that kind of feature."
In addition to children with disabilities, the parents, grandparents or caregivers with disabilities will be able to join children at this playground.
"There are a good number of parents or grandparents in this town who don't have the ability to take their children or grandchildren to the park for much of the same reason a child with a disability can't go to the park," said Chapman. She said wood chips or grass would interfere with access when using a mobility device or a cane.
The playground is pricey. While Bloomington is kicking in $85,000, already budgeted for playground equipment replacement at Rollingbrook Park, the rest of the money is being raised from private sources, including a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant. That leaves about $140,000 remaining.
Contributions are being accepted at the group's website in any amount along with sponsorships ranging from $500 to $25,000. The Harmony Park Project hopes to have all of the money in hand to purchase equipment in fall 2018 with a groundbreaking in spring 2019.
Bloomington-Normal is the only major downstate community without an inclusive playground. There are also no so-called "segregated" playgrounds in Bloomington-Normal, or parks with separate facilities for non-disabled kids alongside a playground designed for only children with disabilities.
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