“Want to play with me?”
Often these are words children ask each other. Some of our greatest childhood memories might come from the endless hours we spent at the playground with not a care in the world. The concept of playing is relatively simple, actually. Laughing and smiling, spending time and making memories with friends. But for families of children living with disabilities, finding a playground that they can enjoy can be difficult. That’s where the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation has used its Quality of Life grants program to create equal opportunities of playtime for all children. Since the program’s inception in 2002, 50 accessible playground grants totaling nearly $323,000 have been awarded.
As Dana Reeve once said, “Our Quality of Life grants program is about freedom.” Through the grants creating accessible playgrounds, we provide freedom to children living with disabilities and their families. One organization who especially knows the value and importance of play and inclusivity is Shane’s Inspiration, which aims to “create inclusive playgrounds and programs that unite children of all abilities.”
Shane’s Inspiration has been awarded four Quality of Life grants from 2005-2012. In addition to building inclusive playgrounds, the organization’s success also comes from its Together We Are Able program. Started in 2005, the program offers children living with disabilities (both cognitive and physical) the opportunity to engage in integrated play at playgrounds with able-bodied children who in turn gain “lessons of diversity awareness, compassion, and acceptance.” As part of the program, students learn in the classroom addressing concerns about misconceptions among their friends, take fieldtrips to playgrounds and are paired with other children with similar likes and dislikes, and conduct post-fieldtrip reflection exercises.
Shane’s Inspiration is just one example of several organizations the Reeve Foundation proudly supports through its Quality of Life Grants program that bridges the gap between the able-bodied and those living with disabilities. “When children have opportunities to play together, differences are replaced with understanding,” said, Donna Valente, Director of Quality of Life Grants for the Reeve Foundation.
Many playgrounds use woodchips as ground cover, which makes it nearly impossible to traverse in a wheelchair. Instead of having fun playing with other children, children who use wheelchairs must sit on the outside, looking in; which can be devastating for them and their families. “Further, many playgrounds do not have equipment to accommodate wheelchair users,” explained Valente.
In helping to fund universal, accessible, and inclusive playgrounds through the Quality of Life grants program, the Reeve Foundation not only gifts the organizations themselves, but the abundance of families who frequent the playgrounds with the opportunity to lessen challenges and welcome a fun and playful environment for everyone.
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