Tennessee County Kids Are Inspiring Inclusive Playgrounds

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Kara Peck is used to watching her son sit on the sidelines at playgrounds.

Miles Peck, 12, is a sixth-grade student at Brentwood Middle School who has Down syndrome. Crowded play spaces are often unsafe or unattractive for him, just as they are for other people with intellectual, developmental or physical disabilities.

This time next year, however, Miles will have a new favorite place to play.

Miles Together Playground, under construction in Brentwood’s Granny White Park, is one of two inclusive playgrounds planned for construction in Williamson County. Spaces are designed to give children of all intellectual, developmental and physical abilities a place to play.

“These are experiences that a family may never have had with their child, so that’s cool,” Kara Peck said. “Every child should have the opportunity to play, to play safely and to play with friends.”

Many families may not notice the special features of an inclusive playground, but they can make a big difference for a child with a disability.

The Miles Together playground will sit on a rubberized surface rather than sand or mulch, making it easier for wheelchair users to access. The swing will have several seat options to accommodate older users or people who need extra support to sit on. There will also be room for independent playtime, which can be especially important for children with autism.

“When parents get that diagnosis, or at first, the world is so upside down anyway, and all you’re told is all they won’t be able to do,” Kara said. Peck. “Fast forward 12 years, for the hope and opportunity that this park represents…it’s exciting, it’s motivating and it’s encouraging.”

The Miles Together Playground will be funded by the Miles for Miles Foundation, Rotary Clubs of Brentwood, the City of Brentwood 50th Anniversary Committee and other business and community donors. The park’s website also notes that another park could be built in Crockett Park.

ELLIE G’S DREAM WORLD

The City of Franklin is also designing an inclusive park for its future Southeast Municipal Complex. The park will be named Ellie G’s Dream World after Elliott Grace Castro, who died aged 4. Ellie G, the granddaughter of Vice Mayor of Franklin Brandy Blanton, had a rare, terminal form of dwarfism.

“You want to come in and create a place where when you walk in, the whole family can be together,” said Franklin Parks Department Director Lisa Clayton. “You create this space where everyone is included so that people without disabilities and people with disabilities can be together.”

Franklin Park will be funded by a public-private partnership. Community organizations will raise half of the estimated cost of $3 million. Clayton said the city of Franklin will pay the remaining $1.5 million.

Kara Peck said it was special to have such a visible symbol of inclusion for her community. In his view, society has come a long way in providing opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.

“We hope that Miles can follow the same trajectory as his peers and that people will strive for excellence in these stages,” Peck said. “For me, it’s just about opening up and creating good things for this community.”

So what does Miles think of the upcoming park?

“He’s going to be so excited,” Peck said. “He’s been to some of the town meetings, trying to put his two cents in the gear.”

To see a complete list of inclusive playgrounds in Tennessee, visit accessibleplayground.net.

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