New playground equipment enhances accessibility, inclusivity in Memorial Park

CHAMBERSBURG – On October 12, the Borough of Chambersburg held a ribbon-cutting ceremony officially announcing two fully-inclusive pieces of playground equipment that were recently installed in Memorial Park.

While all of the borough’s playgrounds meet or surpass required accessibility standards, they often require the user to transfer out of their wheelchair or mobility device to utilize the equipment. The new We-Go-Swing and the We-Go-Round allow children and parents to roll in, lock their wheels and participate.

Chambersburg is the first community in Pennsylvania to install the We-Go-Swing and the fourth in the state to install the We-Go-Round, according to a press release issued by the borough. Previously, the nearest all-inclusive playground was an hour and a half drive away in Hadley’s Park in Potomac, Maryland.

“It is essential that children and visitors of all abilities have ample opportunities to play both independently and together at community parks,” said the press release. “This not only provides numerous benefits for motor, cognitive, and social skills, it also establishes a foundation for children of all abilities as they grow, promoting inclusion and acceptance.”

The project began in 2021, when Superintendent of Recreation Julie Redding saw the We-Go-Swing and We-Go-Round in an industry professional magazine. She thought they were exactly what Chambersburg needed in order to offer a fully inclusive play experience.

Redding then worked with a grant-writing agency to apply for funding, which they received from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Community Conservation Partnerships Program (C2P2) in fall of 2021. The project was completed in summer of 2022.

In an email interview, Redding expressed gratitude that the Borough of Chambersburg was willing to commit the funds to enhancing healthy living opportunities for its residents.

She said that the project cost approximately $130,000. Originally, this cost was supposed to be split in a 50/50 match between the borough and the grant. However, the borough was required to provide a little more than half due to the increased cost of the equipment from the initial proposal to the actual purchase.

“It would be wonderful if every community could support a project like this,” she said. “However, I know not all communities are able to financially support this type of commitment, even if they support it in concept.”

She was also pleased to see Chambersburg take a leadership position on this issue.

“It’s important to me that we do our best and work to provide the best products and experiences to area residents, because our residents deserve that. For me, learning that we were the first to install the We-Go-Swing and one of the first few departments in the Commonwealth to install the We-Go-Round, makes me feel as though it was another way of demonstrating that goal.”

She added: “I hope this installation shows or continues to show the community that we strive to offer exceptional quality of life experiences and services to all who choose to participate.”

Both the We-Go-Swing and the We-Go-Round were designed by Landscape Structures Inc., an employee-owned company headquartered in Delano, Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis. Since 1971, they have designed, manufactured and installed more than 75,000 playgrounds worldwide.

Landscape Structures’ founders Barb and Steve King created the “continuous play” concept that dominates playground design and planning today, which features a single central structure that incorporates the climbers, slides and other elements. Prior to this, each individual piece – the slide, swings, climbers, etc. – had their own designated spaces.

By making the design elements cohesive, the company was able to turn its attention to safety and accessibility.

Jill Moore, an Inclusive Play Specialist with Landscape Structures, explained that while the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990, was a good start, it often fails to take into consideration real-world applications. Too often, it becomes a bureaucratic checklist, a series of boxes to check. 

“The ADA is really the bare minimum,” said Moore. “It’s the worst you can do by law. So if we’re celebrating the ADA, it doesn’t necessarily mean a ton.”

She said that what was really missing from the process was “intentionality.”

As an example, Moore said that if they are creating a climber, they might add an easier route for children that fatigue easily, or they might add a cozy corner for children on the autism spectrum to retreat to re-regulate their senses.

“It’s really incredible to see the industry take it and run with it,” said Moore. “We’re designing spaces intentionally for people who are blind and low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, sensory processing disabilities, ADHD – so all of these diagnoses are getting an answer as to how we create really intentionally, and I think that is one of the coolest things I have seen in my day-to-day job.”

These steps go beyond checking the ADA boxes by asking, “How do we take it further to go from accessible to practical to usable to inclusive?”

With the We-Go-Swing and the We-Go-Round, inclusivity is achieved both in terms of how the children interact directly with the equipment and how the equipment is actually implemented into the larger playground design.

Moore used her own experience with traditional “wheelchair swings” as an example. First, she’s not a fan of the phrase “wheelchair swing” because it limits its intention to accommodating a single type of user. Second, they consist of large moving steel platforms that were dangerous enough that they need to be set away from the rest of the playground. Sometimes they are even fenced off and require a key or code to use them.

“It has to be this separate thing where disability kind of ends up being a circus sideshow,” said Moore of the outdated approach.

An additional problem with the traditional “wheelchair swing” was that Moore, a former Paralympic athlete, could barely make it move. What chance did a child have? The solution was to focus on inclusion so everyone can be a vital participant, and that’s what the We-Go-Swing and the We-Go-Round offer.

“We designed our swing with this intention that it needed to be integrated, that it needed to be in the thick of things, that however you are moving, you can go on it and use it in this equitable way” said Moore of the We-Go Swing. “You can contribute to the motion. You can make this thing go.”

She added: “If you can’t control your environment in a swing or a spinner, you’re really at the mercy of whoever is going to try, which more often than not, is a rogue six-year-old.”

The October 12 ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by representatives from Citizen Interest & Support, Arc of Franklin and Fulton Counties, Franklin Learning Center, the Recreation Advisory Committee, the office of Representative Rob Kauffman, GMS Funding Solutions and the Chambersburg Borough Council.

Julie Redding said that the borough doesn’t have anything definitively planned in the near future, but when they do install future components, “It will be similar in nature in that it will not require one to be transferred out of their wheelchair to engage in the activity.”

[Main image caption: On October 12, the Borough of Chambersburg held a ribbon-cutting ceremony officially announcing two fully-inclusive pieces of playground equipment that were recently installed in Memorial Park. The new We-Go-Swing and the We-Go-Round allow children and parents to roll in, lock their wheels and participate.]

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