Ridgefield CAPS students design an inclusive playground

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Elementary school playgrounds can be a lot of fun. With plenty of places to slide, swing, run and climb, they can offer a place to burn off energy. But if you are in a wheelchair or have other mobility challenges, the playground can be an unfamiliar and difficult place.

A group of students at the Ridgefield Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) recently designed a playground for children of all abilities as part of a class project. The students hope the design can be used one day for a proposed new elementary school or as an upgrade to existing playgrounds.

Universal and accessible design is a common theme for homes and offices, and creating a place that serves people of all ages and abilities can seem like common sense. However, accessibility in parks and playgrounds has lagged behind. Often, it falls on the parents of children with disabilities to advocate for, fund and build inclusive playgrounds.

As a part of the CAPS curriculum, students are asked to solve a real-world problem as a business project, craft actionable results and give a professional presentation. CAPS students Brooke Weese, Ethan Barnette, Nathan Neil, Hunter Abrams and Aida Sinks took on the project of creating an inclusive playground design for the school district.

Their playground project started with extensive research. The students spoke with playground equipment manufacturers and members of the Ridgefield Parks Board and also reviewed costs, designs and building protocols from Harper's Playground, a nonprofit that spearheaded the development of the first inclusive playground in Portland. Along with this, the students polled a group of elementary school students to see what playground features they liked the most.

Using the information they gathered, the students developed a design to accommodate students of all abilities. Their suggestions for playground features included a large play structure that incorporates ramps rather than stairs, an accessible merry-go-round, specially designed swings and a safe playground zipline. The design also has level surfaces between play equipment, so students with mobility issues have easy access.

The students presented their playground design concept to guests at the CAPS Showcase and to the Ridgefield School Board, and the Ridgefield Parks Board will also review the design. They hope that their project will one day lead to a playground where every student can play.

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