Wood chips may be keeping special needs kids from even reaching playground equipment.

Kids Who Can’t Play at the Playground… By Design

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My girls and I have been going to local playgrounds since they were newborns. Wood chip ground cover was a nuisance when it came to getting around with my double stroller. I remember wondering how parents in wheelchairs managed.

I used to leave one twin at a time in the stroller while I held the other in my lap. We slid down the slide to the sounds of peals of baby laughter. As soon as they were walking at about 12 months old (10 months corrected), my daughters toddled out onto the wood chips. Twin B was a little suspicious of this stuff under her feet. Twin A dived into it with gusto.

These new walkers are all about the playground! Kids with special needs may not be able to even reach the equipment when wood chips are in the way.

My major frustration with the wood chips that lined nearly all the playgrounds near us was that my daughters liked to chew on them. Other children, though, find wood chips to be an impassable obstacle. It keeps them from being able to access the equipment at all.

Marissa‘s son A has a variety of special needs. He has already overcome every expectation doctors set for him. They didn’t think he’d survive. When he proved them wrong, they didn’t think he’d be mobile. Untiring parents, committed therapists, and A’s will of steel keep showing us that the sky is the limit. A uses a walker to get around.

A uses a walker to get around. Cement isn't an ideal playground surface, but it's more accessible than wood chip mulch.

When it comes to playgrounds, the edge of the wood chip ground cover marks the limits of where A can get around easily. Cement playgrounds aren’t ideal, but they are walker and wheelchair accessible. Wood chips catch on A’s walker, and he recently suffered injuries from a park fall.

A, who uses a walker to get around, was injured in a wood chip covered playground, which is not accessible.

Here in the Austin area, the Play for All Park in Rabb Park is an accessible playground that is designed with kids like A in mind. It has a swing for wheelchair-users and ramps onto the playscape, tactile surfaces for blind kids, and the ground is covered with a firm but yielding foam-like surface. There are a few areas with wood chips, but much of the playground equipment is accessible.

The Play for All Abilities park in Round Rock TX accommodates kids with and without special needs side by side.

Unfortunately, nothing like this is (yet) available where Marissa and A live.

Today, the Americans with Disabilities Act is 26 years old. If you can, please contact your local parks and recreation department and ask them to consider playground accessibility. Even paving part of a park would make it more accessible to kids like A. It’s a quick call for you, but a world of inclusion for A and children like him.

If you have any photos or videos of a friend or family member trying to navigate wood chips, please email them to Marissa at hdydiblog@gmail.com. She will be using them to advocate for accessible playgrounds in Utah.

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3 thoughts on “Kids Who Can’t Play at the Playground… By Design”

  1. Hey,
    Bless with A, I wouldn’t imagine what challenges he has faced everyday walking in wood chip. This is great post, especially to aware about A like children who face difficulties in playgrounds. There is a need to think about A child’s when creating any park or park equipment.

  2. Wood chips definitely are not safe nor convenient for any child on the playground, especially those with physical disabilities. It’s wonderful to see more accommodating playground being constructed all over the country so that disabled children can have just as much fun. Thanks for sharing!

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