“Play is important to the social and physical development of all children. Children with and without disabilities need to climb, rock, swing, slide, pretend, socialize, balance, build strength, test their abilities, spin, dig, splash and have fun. When children with and without disabilities play together, they learn to appreciate each other’s abilities and similarities.”

This is language from an article featured on the web site of an organization called the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), whose mission is building healthy inclusive communities. The philosophy that children with disabilities need to have the same recreational opportunities as children without disabilities is alive and well in Butte.

How fortunate are we to witness what’s occurring at Stodden Park? Butte voters in May 2016 had the foresight and goodwill to authorize a bond to build a new pool complex at Stodden, and many benefactors have made additional contributions that will make Stodden a best-in-class recreational offering. The pool itself has a zero-entry feature, providing people of all abilities comfortable entrance to the pool. The concessions will offer healthy alternatives.

And Stodden will be home to a playground inclusive to kids and adults of all abilities.

About two years ago, I partnered with Todd Hoar on a project called Reaching People with Disabilities through Healthy Communities. Todd is Butte-Silver Bow’s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator. The project is supported by NCHPAD, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Human Development & Disability, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, and the Center on Health Promotion Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The grant making the project possible came along at the same time voters were authorizing the pool bond.

The project prompted Todd and me to focus on several projects, and Stodden loomed large among them. Once the bond was authorized, Todd was able to work with Butte-Silver Bow Parks & Recreation Director J.P. Gallagher, a partner overwhelmingly willing to make the new Stodden as inclusive as possible. Todd and J.P. visited Missoula’s pools and that city’s Silver Summit playground and brought lessons learned there to realize opportunities for inclusion in Butte.

“Our playground is designed with an all-inclusive design, meaning it is designed for all children of all abilities” and is accessible to individuals with disabilities to play as well, J.P. told me recently. The playground, he said, will have “soft poured-in-place surface paths at all of the play features but the whole surface at the playground is not poured in place” — this will allow for an individual with disabilities to play and access all play features. An individual with disabilities “will also be able to maneuver around the playground to observe,” Gallagher said, giving the example of a parent with disabilities observing children at play.

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This is the type of foresight mentioned in the NCHPAD web article, written by Cindy Burkhour, a nationally recognized recreation consultant. “Children are not the only benefactors of accessible design in play areas,” Burkhour wrote. “Parents with disabilities need to move around the playground in order to support and interact with their children as they play. Accessible routes in and around the play area also help parents without disabilities, particularly those pushing younger siblings in strollers, and grandparents playing with their grandchildren. Good universal design is a benefit to adults and children.”

Burkhour’s article said communities should expect some opposition when building inclusive play areas — some community members might say that the community doesn’t have enough people with disabilities to support such an investment. But people with long-term disabilities live everywhere, and all people move in and out of the mild to severe experiences of disability because of injuries or illness. That’s Butte’s reality — one in six Butte-Silver Bow residents lives with a type of disability that causes limitations in one or more major life activities.

Efforts to build an inclusive playground in Missoula culminated in creation of that city’s Silver Summit playground. Those involved with that effort are continuing their work, in 2016 approaching Rep. Jean Price, D-Great Falls to carry a bill encouraging accessible playgrounds statewide. The bill, which became law in May, also designated $100,000 to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to distribute grants throughout the state to develop accessible playgrounds. For more information on that grant opportunity, visit http://fwp.mt.gov/shared/parksNews/nr_1160.html. The grant deadline is Jan. 17.

Meg Traci, PhD, of the University of Montana is the state expert on the project Todd and I have been working on. Meg told me recently she hopes funding will be located so that our county Parks & Rec staff can receive training on adaptive recreation and inclusion. She hopes that inclusive summer camps and programs will be held at the Stodden playground. She hopes that education can occur so that community members, when planning parties and get-togethers, choose Stodden so that all kids invited can play and recreate.

From Missoula, Meg loves seeing the success of Butte’s efforts to date. We’ll soon have an inclusive playground.

Merry Christmas to us!

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Karen Sullivan is Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer and Director of the Health Department. Her column, The Public's Health, appears weekly on The Montana Standard's health page.


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