Parks & Rec sees benefit of inclusive playground

This concept shows one of the options Parks and Rec is looking at for an inclusive playground in Monticello. A project like this would allow children of all abilities to play and interact together. (Illustration provided by Parks and Rec)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     “Inclusive playgrounds are designed to provide a safe place where children of all abilities can play together, and are developmentally appropriate for children with and without disabilities.”

     Monticello Parks and Recreation Director Jacob Oswald shared those sentiments regarding the department’s new project to build an inclusive playground in Monticello.

     The idea was first brought to light during a February city council meeting where Oswald informed the council of the idea. It was met with great enthusiasm.

     At that time, Oswald said the idea is to build the playground at the Aquatic Center. Those plans are still in play.

     Despite COVID-19 and the fact that playgrounds are off limits for the time being, Parks and Rec is still pursuing the project with grants and fundraising.

     “At this point we are still hopeful to get this project rolling and start our fundraising efforts in the next few months,” Oswald said. “A very aggressive timeline would be to have the project completed by Memorial Day next year.”

     While Parks and Rec and the city have yet to land on a final concept, a couple of rough drafts have been looked at. Oswald said once the Park Board is able to meet after the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, they will focus on a final rendering.

     So what is an “inclusive playground?” How does it differ from that of a “typical playground?”

     Oswald said “typical playgrounds” are part of the Stone Age now.

     “A large percentage of the playgrounds being constructed today, by ADA standards, are accessible,” he explained, “which ensures anyone, regardless of disability has access to that particular playground. An inclusive playground goes beyond that and is designed not only for individuals in wheelchairs, but also individuals with varied abilities.

     “An inclusive playground take away the barriers to exclusion, both physically and socially, providing a positive experience for all,” continued Oswald.

     Parks and Rec wants all children to have access to a playground in the community, and to be able to engage with their friends and family.

     There are three themes associated with inclusive playgrounds: engaging, integrated, and promotes inclusion.


     These types of playgrounds integrate all of the senses and encourage social play, with something for everyone: climbing, sliding, swinging, music, etc.


     “A true inclusive playground doesn’t mean that there is special equipment in a separate area off to the side, but rather a space designed as a cohesive community where play opportunities are integrate throughout,” explained Oswald.


     These playgrounds bring everyone together, no matter ability.

     “They prove that kids of all abilities enjoy exploring, learning, interacting, and having fun together,” said Oswald. “A lesson that benefits us all.”

     Overall, Parks and Rec had plans to upgrade its playground facilities, and doing so at the Aquatic Center made the most sense as it’s one of the city’s most visited outdoor locations year-round.

     “We also receive a lot of phone calls looking for shelters for family gatherings that have playgrounds,” offered Oswald. “And right now, we only have on option.” Should this inclusive playground become a reality, the city and residents and visitors would greatly benefit.

     Cooper Yonkovic, 8 years old, is the son of Nikki and Russ Yonkovic of Monticello. Cooper has DMD (Duchene muscular dystrophy). He was diagnosed when he was 4, and has trouble utilizing standard play equipment.

     “He struggles a lot going up the steps and they usually have large drops and obstacles he just cannot do,” Nikki explained. Sadly, Cooper has to watch other kids have fun on playgrounds, otherwise asks for assistance to navigate a jungle gym, for instance.

     With no inclusive playgrounds in place yet, Nikki said they’re not sure how long Cooper’s abilities will allow him to access any play equipment in the community.

     “He can still walk and do some activities, but will be getting a wheelchair this summer for long distances and school,” she said of his mobility and muscle weaknesses. “Eventually he will be in his chair fulltime as he will lose all muscle.”

     The Yonkovic family would definitely utilize an inclusive playground like the one that’s planned by Parks and Rec. Nikki said it would provide Cooper with a place that he feels safe (from falling on steps) and to have fun with kids his own age.

     “I don’t think that others without children of different abilities even think about things like this,” shared Nikki. “Not intentionally; you just don’t until it affects you or your family.” She said an inclusive playground would not just benefit those of Monticello, but those from area communities that lack play equipment like this.

     “This is a great idea and we’re happy to live in a community like we do!” she praised.

     When Oswald presented some preliminary information to the city in February, he mentioned that initial costs could be around $100,000. He said Parks and Rec hopes to fund as much of the cost as possibly through grants, donations, and fundraisers.


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