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OurSpace: A Place for All

A year ago, NPR’s Robert Benincasa filed the report For Kids With Special Needs, More Places To Play, which aired locally on WSKG Radio. NPR simultaneously launched a community-edited app, ‘Accessible Playgrounds,’ an online guide to identify and locate these spaces. The radio piece was very moving and the online app made me curious about playgrounds in our area.First, what IS an accessible playground? Well, kids with physical disabilities or developmental differences may not interact with playgrounds in the same way as typical children. Accessible playgrounds are designed to be inclusive of all children and abide by ADA standards.I reached out to Jen O’Brien, Executive Director of Life Is Washable, Inc., aka ‘The Magic Paintbrush Project’, an organization offering amazing artistic experiences for individuals with special needs. If anyone in the City of Binghamton would know about accessible playgrounds it would be Jen. Sure enough, there was a very, very exciting project underway: the OurSpace Park.Jen graciously agreed to an interview as did Peter Ling, both members of the OurSpace planning committee.What is the OurSpace project?  What will the end product look like?The Our Space Project is a collaboration of The City of Binghamton, Life Is Washable, Inc. and the PwC Scholars at Binghamton University’s School of Management.  The Collaboration’s purpose is to design and build fully handicapped accessible “PlaySpaces” at Recreation Park.  These PlaySpaces intend to be inclusive of our community’s many needs.In the end, Recreation Park will still have its rich and wonderful history, but will include 4 acres of inviting and accessible features including a vertical garden, Sound Garden, accessible fitness equipment, a labyrinth, a small accessible amphitheater, a tree deck, accessible picnic area and a fully accessible playground space for 2-5 years olds and 5-12 year olds. How did OurSpace come about?  Where did the initial idea come from and how has the vision unfolded into a real-life project?The PwC Scholars were searching for a 2014 community service project, and after much thought they choose to focus on upgrading the baseball fields at Recreation Park.The City of Binghamton has a wonderful facility in Recreation Park, with a strong infrastructure and wonderful amenities such as the tennis courts, ball fields, pool, carousel and playground space. The facilities, while well maintained, were not accessible to residents who have a long or short-term handicap, and needing an upgrade to be compliant with new accessibility regulations.We talked about needs in the community and how their project could include more handicapped accessible options. As the discussion grew, so did the community interest and support.In September of 2013, I approached the Board of Directors of Life Is Washable, Inc. asking to become more involved as an organization.  Our support would help them broadened their vision to include improvements which would make the ball fields fully accessible, and include a second phase for an accessible PlaySpace.As we discussed the opportunity, it was clear that the project would be much larger in scope than anyone one group could accomplish alone, but together it was very possible.   We reached out to Bill Barber, Director of City of Binghamton Parks and Recreation and our full collaboration of community, students and City was formed.The initial vision was to meet the needs of the park, the needs of the community and the service of the students to take “the idea” and make it a reality.  It was not their space, or your space – it is a space for all – OurSpace. What feedback have you received so far on the OurSpace project?  Have individuals or organizations risen to the occasion offering support?The overall feedback has been tremendous.  The City of Binghamton through both the Council and Mayor’s office has been incredibly supportive. The Community Foundation for South Central New York oversees the “OurSpace Fund” which allows donors the confidence that all donations and support will be directed toward the needs of the project.Multiple groups have either donated or pledged support including the PwC Schools, Wendy’s Walk for Kids, the 2014 BLI Class, Visions Federal Credit Union and United Health Services. When combined with number of private donors who are supporting the Project, the response to requests has been encouraging.What's the timeline for OurSpace and when will it be fully complete?Our final planning meetings will happen in September and October of this year, with vendor decisions being made by late November.  Construction will start in the spring and we hope to complete the project by the summer of 2015.Peter, you offer a unique perspective as a parent whose child will be served by the OurSpace Park. What does this project mean to your family?Mather is unable to access the playground at his school or parks in Broome County due to his physical disability.  OurSpace will allow him the opportunity to have fun and interact with his friends and sister on the playground without physical barriers.  Our family is looking forward to the welcoming and inclusive playground where Mather and all children with varying abilities can play, have fun, and become more independent.  There will be no boundaries and there will be no limit on the fun that this accessible park will provide to all kids. Jen, can you talk about your motivation for this project?For me, the motivation is very simple. Our community has asked for it, responded to it and is working together on it.  As the excitement and encouragement has grown so has the motivation to see this project to a successful completion.The many faces at The Magic Paintbrush Project including Mather Ling also inspire me, – no matter our age or ability we all deserve a place to play. If anyone reading this post would like more information on the project, where can they find that?www.ourspacepark.org  | Facebook | (607) 729-5059 Many thanks to Jen & Peter and best wishes to the OurSpace Park Project! So, where are other accessible playgrounds in our community? Here’s a challenge for our region: take a close look at playspaces in your town, use the NPR app to help identify key features that help make an accessible playground and then log your findings! Let’s get our region on the national map.