Ask the School Psychologist...|
by Beth Bruno, Ed.M., M.A.
Sandy Tovray Greenberg, friend and fellow writer, recently told me about a book she co-wrote with Amy Jaffe Barzach about Boundless Playgrounds -- playgrounds that are accessible to children with disabilities. The book, Accidental Courage, Boundless Dreams, has just been published. This book is not only the extraordinary true story of the Barzach family who suffered the unthinkable tragedy of loss of their nine-month-old Jonathan from spinal muscular atrophy. It is also the story of how they celebrated his life by leading a passionate group of parents and professionals to establish Jonathan's Dream Playground in West Hartford, CT. After this accomplishment, they formed Boundless Playgrounds, the first national nonprofit organization dedicated to making fully integrated, universally accessible playgrounds a reality for children everywhere.
For most children, an outing to a playground is an enjoyable experience, to run to the swings, hop on, be pushed or finally learn how to pump yourself. Then to soar to heights, feeling the cool breeze, imagining your feet can actually touch the sky. Tiring of that, well satisfied, the child runs to the slides, scrambles up the ladder and feels the thrill of his body traveling at a fast pace descending to the ground, followed by the architectural completion of the world's largest sand castle. That is an experience for ninety percent of this country's children--for those not encumbered with braces or wheelchairs or afflicted with some form of disability. But for the ten percent of children with disabilities, a playground has always been a place shut off to them. Until now. Until Amy Barzach of West Hartford created a playground where disabled children can play.
Amy's story is a journey that takes us through much turmoil, pain and then celebration. When her four-month-old son Jonathan was diagnosed with Spinal Muscle Atrophy (SMA), she was devastated, as were her husband Peter and three-year-old son Daniel. The next five months brought many tests, anguish and the reality that their son had a fatal disease that ultimately took his life at nine months of age.
The idea to build a playground for children with disabilities was an outgrowth of an incident that had occurred shortly after Jonathan was born and prior to his diagnosis. Amy had been at a playground with the children and saw a little girl sitting in her wheelchair on the periphery of the park. Amy had noticed the forlorn look on this girl's face as she observed other children swinging on swings, sliding down slides and building sandcastles in sandboxes impossible to reach from a wheelchair.
This vision stayed with Amy. When she was endeavoring to create a memory of Jonathan, the vision returned, and the idea of creating a handicapped accessible playground was born. By the time the hundreds of volunteers had convened to work on this project, the idea to build more than just one playground in West Hartford had already been conceived. A national non-profit organization entitled the National Center for Boundless Playgrounds was started almost immediately after the opening of Jonathan's Dream, and it continues to grow with a myriad of playgrounds throughout the country, either in construction or completed.
Children with disabilities need not experience the frustration of being cut off from the world of play or of being different than the "normal kids," when they can use a playground with no boundaries, only opportunities for fun. In a Boundless Playgrounds all children are the same--happy, carefree, full of life. It makes no difference here whether a child can walk with or without crutches, run or use a wheelchair. Once the disabled children leave the playground each day, their paths divert drastically from those of the able children. But for a few shining moments, they can simply have fun and leave the harsh reality of their limitations outside the playground.
Words to describe these playgrounds do not match the emotions that are felt upon actually entering one of them. And just what is waiting for these children? It is much more than ramps for wheelchairs or a water-bubbler that extends out for the wheelchair to fit under it. Some of the fun waiting for the children includes a glider boat with a wheel that juts out to allow the wheelchair to slip underneath it so the child can steer the boat, a tree house in which to sit and dream or share secrets with friends, a puppet theater to entertain or be entertained, periscopes to see the world, swings with backs and straps, raised sandboxes so they can design the world. And it offers even more than ramps and raised sandboxes for the wheelchair bound--sensory activities for those who have other developmental delays or for the visually impaired are also offered here. And many more enticements to make a disabled child feel like a child--and play.
Over thirty Boundless Playgrounds are now open throughout the United States and Canada. Almost 100 are in development throughout the country and as far away as Mexico and India. The goal of Boundless Playgrounds is to have a playground built within reach of every child, so that those with disabilities will have a place to be a kid.
For more information about Boundless Playgrounds, contact:
Boundless Playgrounds: 860-243-8315
Visit their Web site at: www.boundlessplaygrounds.org
For more information about the book, Accidental Courage, Boundless Dreams:
Call (toll free): 866-287-6724
Visit the publisher's Web site: www.aurorapublishing.com
Email the author, Sandy Tovray Greenberg: firstname.lastname@example.org
Beth Bruno email@example.com
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