At the Jan. 12 meeting of Bridgeport Rotary, Bridgeport Parks and Recreation Director Joe Shuttleworth explained the concept behind an All-Inclusive Playground.
“The object of an all-inclusive playground is to include everyone together. They are thoughtfully designed to be a safe place for children of all abilities to play together. If developed properly, they take away barriers for exclusion – physical and social. They are very sensory rich with a lot of sound, sight and feel. Children of all abilities can interact together.”
His words were met enthusiastically by Rotary members. Soon, the club will unite forces with other civic clubs to raise money for such a playground. Initial thoughts are to locate it near The Bridge Indoor Recreation Complex and Bridgeport Recreation Complex baseball fields.
“We host the Challenger Baseball League there – 70 to 80 kids from seven different counties,” Shuttleworth said. “A lot of kids can’t be involved with normal athletics in their hometowns. If you go east, west or south, there is very little for those children. We’re the closest hub for activity. All these children come to our community taking advantage of the facilities we have here.”
The all-inclusive playground will be another “wow” facility, he said, not just for our citizens, but for sports tourism, offering a new concept for children with all types of disabilities.
“Take into account the number of children on the autism spectrum. There are a lot of disabilities you cannot see,” Shuttleworth said.
The old term for play areas that accommodated kids with disabilities was handicapped accessible, he said.
“All playgrounds that are put in now have to be handicapped assessible – have ramps and surfacing that can handle wheelchairs. There has to be some sort of ground level play,” he said. “Older handicapped accessible playgrounds have ramps everywhere. If you’re in a wheelchair, I guess that’s OK. The problem is there’s not lot of play value. For children who don’t have disabilities, there is very little play value or excitement, so you end up segregating those populations.”
Shuttleworth said in his 25-year career with parks and recreation, he had never seen a child in a wheelchair enjoying a playground – until recently. He and his family discovered one just outside of Huntington.
“There were other children and they were playing all together,” he said. “It was very harmonious, a situation where it just warmed my heart. A child was not stuck over there in a corner because he didn’t have the same abilities someone else has.”
The vision is for each club to sponsor a portion of the playground; one that will someday be busy with laughter and chatter.
The playground ties in with the vision of The Bridge Indoor Recreation Complex
Out of many suggested names, The Bridge was decided upon for the forthcoming recreation center for a couple of reasons. It does reflect the name of our city, but also signifies the bridging of people; athletes and families from different cities and states. The addition of the all-inclusive playground would fill the gap between all children – those with and without disabilities.
Bridgeport Lions Club is already on board and Rotary President Brad Ford has reached out to leaders of various other civic groups. For more information, reach out to Ford at 304-641-6697.
“We kind of want to make this a grassroots effort with volunteers, fundraising and community outreach,” Shuttleworth said. “It will be a really neat program once it’s put together; something to hang our hats on; something great for the community and all children.”