This is what a playground for kids with disabilities looks like

Nov 19, 2013

Ask any kid about their favorite part of the school day and they’ll likely give you one response - recess.

But for kids with disabilities, going outside isn’t always easy.  Traditional playgrounds aren’t always safe for these kids.

Haisley Elementary in Ann Arbor just renovated its playground to specifically accommodate for students with disabilities.

The school has a large population of kids with disabilities. Most of these kids can’t talk. Many have a hard time sitting up right. Some are in wheelchairs. Some have Autism.

Special Education teacher Erika Cech says until this fall, going outside for these kids meant playing in a small courtyard without a play structure.

"We just looked for a way the kids could do something that's a little more fun than wheel themselves around the blacktop."

"We just looked for a way the kids could do something that's a little more fun than wheel themselves around the blacktop," she said.

At first glance, Haisley’s new playground looks like any other. It's blue and silver with a wide platform shaped like a pirate ship, but there aren’t any stairs. There’s a long ramp for kids in wheelchairs that leads to the pirate ship.

Djaba is a first grader with Autism in Cech's class.

She wears bright red headphones to help her feel safe in noisy areas. Djaba is one of the few kids in her class who can speak -- though sometimes she has trouble articulating her words.

But she doesn’t need many words to let her imagination run wild. She loves the pirate ship -- and going on treasure hunts.

The playground has a teeter-totter with back support for kids who have trouble sitting up. Instead of pushing off from the ground, you lie down and use your body weight to make it move.

There’s a red tire swing with a flat surface so students in wheelchairs can roll up to it.

Kids literally line up to use this swing. 

Isaiah is another one of Cech’s students. He’s a little shy. He swings by himself for a while before making his way to the tire swing with the other kids.

I ask him what he likes to do on the playground.

"Have some fun," he said.

Before the playground was renovated, Cech says her students didn’t have many opportunities to interact with other kids at Haisley.

"It's a great way that they've had more opportunities to engage with their general education peers."

"I also see our kids in wheelchairs up there with the general education kids," she said. "It's a great way that they've had more opportunities to engage with their general education peers."

Cech says interacting with other kids at Haisley can help her students learn social skills that are hard for them to develop, like sharing and taking turns. She says this kind of interaction teaches kids without disabilities to be empathetic to people who are different from them. 

When another class comes out, they squeeze onto the swing with Cech’s kids. They spin together until it’s time to go back to class.

- Sarah Kerson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Looking for an accessible playground in your community? Check out NPR's accessible playgrounds map to find one near you or tell others about one in your neighborhood.