As seen in the Pioneer Press, October 18, 2015:
Hudson, Wis., considers playground for kids with disabilities
by Kelsy Ketchum, U of M intern working with the Pioneer Press
Danny Caron loves to hang out on the swing set.
But since the 12-year-old Hudson, Wis., boy was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder in April, he hasn't been able to get to the playground as much. Danny suffers from Cohen syndrome, a disorder that leads to frequent infections, a limited field of vision, cognitive loss and trouble with fine motor skills. And though children with Cohen syndrome also have a high need to socialize, parks and playgrounds that aren't safe for children with disabilities can be a problem. "My son is one of the friendliest people you'll ever meet," said his mother, Michelle Caron. But it's a challenge find playmates because many kids "don't want to come over and spend the night anymore."
Thanks to a $100,000 donation from the Hudson Hospital Foundation, however, that all might change. The foundation plans to partner with the city to build a universal playground at Weitkamp Park after hearing from community members that Hudson's playgrounds needed to be more inclusive, foundation president Kari Rambo said. The city council will decide whether to accept the gift and authorize the purchase of equipment at its meeting Monday. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for the city of Hudson and the community," Rambo said.
The playground equipment now at the park would be moved to Lakefront Park-Picnic Point, Pat Casanova, the Park Board chairman, told the city council in September. The donation would pay for the removal of the existing playground and other costs associated with the creation of the universal playground, the proposal said. There is no cost estimate yet, Rambo said.
Playgrounds are only required to meet the minimum accessibility standards in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Architectural Barriers Act or in local building codes, according to a report on universal playgrounds by the National Center on Accessibility at Indiana University-Bloomington. The 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act standards only require that playgrounds include wheelchair accessible elements. Universal playgrounds are designed to exceed the minimum standards set out by the law, the report said. Universal playgrounds emphasize equitable use, meaning everyone is able to use the equipment, regardless of ability, the report said. This can include making the equipment accessible from multiple places and ensuring the interactive components can be easily understood, the report said.
The hospital foundation has partnered with local nonprofit groups over the past four to five years and is trying to "make a difference" in the lives of community members, Rambo said. The foundation began meeting with community members last summer, she said. Hudson's universal playground would be modeled after Madison's Place Playground in Woodbury, Construction on that playground is expected to begin with a community build this month, according to Woodbury's website.
There are about 800 children in Hudson Public Schools with special needs who would benefit from the playground, Rambo said. It would also be a great addition for kids without disabilities, Caron said. The foundation is working with playground equipment supplier MN/WI Playground for a possible grant matching its donation, but it has not yet been approved, Rambo said. The foundation plans a Nov. 6 fundraiser, which is expected to provide 50 percent of the required funds, Rambo said. Corporate donations and the foundation will cover the rest, Rambo said. It would be a "huge blessing" for parents of children with disabilities, especially kids who use wheelchairs, Caron said. Caron said she thinks the playground is a fabulous idea. Hopefully it will help Danny find "someone to laugh with on the swings."