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Community effort helps make disability-inclusive playground a reality in State College

The new surface on the playground at Easterseals is disability-inclusive. Instead of mulch, the rubber surface allows those with wheelchairs or walkers to easily move around.
The new surface on the playground at Easterseals is disability-inclusive. Instead of mulch, the rubber surface allows those with wheelchairs or walkers to easily move around. adrey@centredaily.com

It took a year, but Easterseals Child Development Center in State College will have one of the first disability-inclusive playgrounds in Centre County.

“As soon as you open the playground gate, students who have wheelchairs or walkers or wheelies are able to roll right into the playground,” said Director Jessica Confer.

Last spring, a parent of a child with spina bifida who attended Easterseals launched a fundraising campaign for a new playground because her daughter had trouble getting around the mulched playground using her walker.

That spurred a tremendous response from the community, said Confer. Area schools, departments, organizations and individuals who saw the story in local media donated money, with some donating proceeds from their own fundraisers, she said.

Combined with support from the community and a benefit concert in the summer, she said, Easterseals was able to raise the $45,000 to resurface the 3,000-square-foot playground with rubber.

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The new surface on the playground at Easterseals is disability-inclusive. Instead of mulch, the rubber surface allows those with wheelchairs or walkers to easily move around. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

About 40% of children who use the Easterseals playground receive early intervention at the center, said Confer, which, along with early childhood education services, offers speech, occupational and physical therapy for students with developmental delays or disability diagnoses. Fifteen percent of the center’s students have mobility issues or physical delays, she said, and rely on wheelchairs, walkers and other equipment to get around.

In some cases, she said, students have therapy right on the playground, so it was very important to the center to have an inclusive play space for all the children it serves.

“There’s no barriers holding (students) back anymore to playing and socializing with their friends,” she said.

Pam Salokangas, director of Centre Region Parks and Recreation, told the Centre Daily Times last year that the Centre Region doesn’t have many accessible parks and playgrounds. But with the construction of the Whitehall Road Regional Park underway, that will change, she has said. That park will include a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round, a wheelchair swing, many ramps for accessibility and short synthetic grass for easy mobility.

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Two children play on the newly surfaced playground at Easterseals. Lissa Wise Photo provided

On Thursday, the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County will host a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. at Easterseals at 383 Rolling Ridge Drive in State College to commemorate the new playground and an open house from 4 to 6:30 p.m. to celebrate the nonprofit’s 100th anniversary.

“We just want to say thank you (to the community) and show them what (their) donations did and how they impacted our students,” Confer said.

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Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and education for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.


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