City plans playground designed to include disabled adults and children

Photo courtesy of Esmeralda Hudson

By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer

The City of Waco is considering where to build a park designed to accommodate adults and children who have physical or intellectual disabilities.

At the city council meeting Oct. 2, John Rose, interim director of Waco Parks and Recreation, said during the 2017 Waco Parks and Recreation masterplan process, a number of participants brought up the need for a playground designed in a way that allows children with mobility challenges to have an equal opportunity to play. The goal is equal engagement for all park attendees.

The options Waco Parks and Recreation are considering are better fall-zone surfaces, stretcher ramps instead of steps, a wider range of sensory play items and a wider range of mobility accommodations. The park is modeled after a successful existing inclusive park in Round Rock, Texas.

The Parks and Recreation department has identified several sites, and now the city is deciding where it will be. The final vote will be Tuesday, Oct. 16, in the next city council meeting. The top choices, according to Tuesday’s discussion, are where Floyd-Casey Stadium used to be and the empty lot behind Franklin Place.

“Feedback was provided by a number of the local stakeholders helping to raise awareness to this distinction,” Rose said. “What does this disparity often imply? Separate activities for children with mobility challenges … less than ideal accommodations for adult guardians with mobility challenges of their own, less than ideal accommodation for adult-size patrons with intellectual disabilities and sometimes a lack of helpful support from communities.”

Marcia Bayer is a local mom with a four-year-old daughter, Hannah, who is in a wheelchair. She has three other children who are able-bodied. Bayer said her family just doesn’t go to playgrounds.

“It wouldn’t be fair to [Hannah] — it would be torture for her to watch from the sidelines,” Bayer said.

The Bayers live in Robinson, and the closest wheelchair accessible park is in Temple. According to Bayer, any location in Waco is better than driving out to Temple just so the whole family can participate in playground fun.

“We have a life group at our church and oftentimes they’ll want to meet at a park and have a playdate and we oftentimes just say, ‘Don’t include us,’ because it’s not fair. There’s literally nothing my daughter can do,” Bayer said.

In another instance, Bayer’s extended family had a gathering and wanted to have an Easter egg hunt at the park. Bayer’s family could not go because the park had mulch.

Rose and his team hope to remedy the situation by providing a park with activities and spaces that will accommodate all of the above challenges.

“The goal is to provide a play environment that reflects Waco’s community values on a larger scale,” Rose said. “We can help foster a sense of welcoming and belonging by enabling families to play together more seamlessly, regardless of abilities. The bottom line is, ‘play is more fun when everyone is in on the game,’” Rose said.