Photo by Layna Hendrich of PhotographyLayn

Friday, May 29, 2015

How To Bring An All Inclusive Playground To Your Community

In August of 1999, I was injured in a ranching accident up the North Fork when I was 16 years old. I learned early on how important it is to stay active and continue to enjoy the outdoors, despite a disability. Fast forward to 2010, and after I had my daughter, Addison, I knew I wanted to teach her this important lesson as well. Unfortunately, when I attempted to take her to the local playgrounds for the first time, I found out that none of them were wheelchair friendly. I knew that if I, as a parent, was unable to enjoy active play with my child, then children with varying disabilities in our community were not able to enjoy active play either.

During the Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant in 2013 in Ohio, I was given the opportunity to experience my first all inclusive playground- a place where children of all abilities and their families were able to play together and learn together. I returned home with the dream of building Wyoming’s very first boundless playground right here in Cody.

SOAR Park, Ms. Wheelchair USA 2013 Pageant, Stow, Ohio
Here we are, two years later, and I am excited to say that we are hoping to open the playground in the Fall of 2016. It has been a wonderful journey, and I thought I would share the steps we have taken to help others in their quest for a similar project in their community. Obviously, every project will be different, but the steps can be altered to fit your needs. They may go in a different order as well.

Step One: Do Your Research

I knew that I hadn't seen any truly accessible playgrounds in Cody, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing anything. I ended up doing a full playground audit of almost a dozen parks. I took a Saturday and headed out with my notebook and camera. At each park, I looked at the following criteria:
  • Access to the playground, including sidewalks and curb cuts
  • Parking at the playground
  • The playground equipment, including accessibility and age/wear/condition
  • The surfacing of the playground
  • Surrounding features, including shelter houses and bathroom facilities
  • Overall ADA compliance of the playground
  • Priority level based on location and size of the playground
I also took pictures of everything, including things that worked, and places that needed attention. I compiled all of this information in a large PowerPoint presentation, which included education about the ADA and recreation guidelines, as well as a final recommendation. In our case, we chose to have one large "crown jewel" project that was completely all inclusive instead of  doing minor fixes at all of the parks.

Step Two: Make Contact

This step may overlap with the previous step, as it did in my case. One of the first calls I made when I started this project was to Rick Manchester, the Director of Parks & Recreation for Cody. Fortunately, he had been looking at a similar project in Cody, so the timing was perfect. He asked me to complete the audit and report back with my findings and recommendations. He was looking for a "community quarterback" for the project and I immediately volunteered.

If this timing isn't the case for you, you will have your project ready to present to make the case of the new playground project and its need in your community. Make sure you are talking and presenting to the actual decision makers who would not only control the direction of the project, but be passionate and knowledgeable about it as well.

Step Three: Get Creative

Rick and I spoke several times before heading out to Mentock Park, where we were leaning towards putting the park. Addison went with us for the site survey, and it was quickly evident that the playground needed work before it could be considered accessible, let alone all inclusive. But it did offer the best option for several reasons:
  •  Location- Mentock is surrounded by residential housing, a middle school, and an assisted living community. While its location is easy to access and already established as a main community park, we wouldn't be dealing with heavy traffic or distracting commercial noise.
  • Timing- Mentock is an older playground structure and was almost due to be replaced.
  • Existing Infrastructure- To save on cost, try looking at a location that offers existing infrastructure, so that you don't have the additional cost of starting from scratch. Mentock has existing parking, sidewalks, curb cuts, and landscaping.
  • Other Facilities- Mentock also has a shelter and a bathroom facility that works fairly well- we may just need to spruce it up a little. It also already houses several soccer fields and a skate park.
Once we had decided on the best location, we started researching companies that specialize in all inclusive playground design. One company, Playworld Systems, sent a designer up to look at our location and discuss design options with us. This was an exciting process, but also overwhelming. Luckily, the designer we were working with really knew her stuff, and we were able to collaborate to come up with a design that fit our location, our needs, and our budget. We also needed to take into consideration the upkeep of the playground and who would be responsible for that. Additional funding may be needed for this based on your project. Our designer drew up several blueprints, with differing budget levels in mind.

We wanted to ensure that we were meeting the needs of children of all abilities, including able bodied children and children with varying disabilities, including physical, sensory, and learning. Now that we had a working plan complete with conceptual drawings, we started sharing the project to raise the needed funds.

Step Four: Show Me The Money

A project of this size can cost anywhere between several hundred thousand dollars to over a million dollars, depending on its size. The numbers can be very overwhelming, especially if you are approaching the project with no prior knowledge of similar playgrounds. Fortunately for me, I had been able to speak with the people involved in bringing an all inclusive park to Stow, Ohio, the original park I had experienced in 2013 (SOAR PARK). They were incredibly helpful and prepared me for the sticker shock.

Even with that assistance, the enormity of raising the funds was intimidating. Luckily, we live in an amazing community and as we began sharing the project, we were approached by several groups and organizations that wanted to get involved. Rick also knew about a state grant that we were eligible to apply for that required matching funds, but would almost completely cover the cost of the playground. So we started looking for opportunities to present the project to additional groups that could possibly help us match the state grant. We were thrilled with the response we received, and we just turned in our grant application after procuring the matching funds necessary to meet the eligibility requirements. We will hear in December if we will receive the funding.

We are also pursuing a few grants with outside organizations that specialize in disability recreation and community projects like the playground. Make sure that the person writing your grants has previous experience and knows exactly what they are doing- some of these grants award large sums of money, and you only have one chance to make a good first impression for your project.

Step Five: Involve The Community

To me, this is one of the most important aspects of any community project, especially when it touches the lives of people in such a personal way. We will be hosting several community work days next summer to cut down on the playground construction costs, as well as offer folks the opportunity to be involved in a hands-on way. Parents and grandparents directly affected by a disability have come out of the woodwork offering support and assistance. It's so exciting to see your passion spread throughout the community and light a fire for such a special project.

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned from this project is that something worth doing well takes time and patience. This playground is going to be around for decades to come and will be enjoyed by generations of children and their families, and to me, that makes the waiting worth it. I will keep everyone posted about our progress. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at


  1. Great, practical and achievable experience shared is a huge gift. Way to plant additional seeds Ashlee. So informative. The word that stuck with me and is still resonating: Boundless!

  2. Great Article. Thanks for the info. Does anyone know where I can find a blank playground audit form to fill out?

    1. Archie- thanks! I'm not sure about blank forms, but if you send me your email, I can send you the PP I created that shows the audit I completed- might be helpful?

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  4. Hey Archie, I found a blank fillable playground audit form here:playground safety form.