This past Wednesday, from 1 - 4 p.m., the Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground hosted its second “It’s Our Park Day,” a day of outdoor activities designed to engage participants of all ages and abilities. Children on and off wheelchairs played on a basketball court with adjustable hoops, decorated ceramic plant pots with representatives from Park to Park 103 and threw frisbees provided by Project HAPPY’s group Discabilities. The event was planned, coordinated, and brought to life by the Friends of the Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground, an organization directed by Sheldon Fine, Rita Genn and Cidalia Costa.
The idea for the park came about in 2014 during a meeting of Community Board 7, Fine said. Together with Genn and Catherine DeLazzero, Fine formed a task force to create an inclusive playground. The task force chose the shared playground between P.S. 145 The Bloomingdale School and West Prep Academy for the development, as the playground was already in need of a renovation, Fine said.
The goal was to go beyond the idea of an accessible park, which includes ramps and an ADA swing, and to create an inclusive space where people of all abilities could play together without difficulty. To accomplish such as big task, Fine said the Inclusive Playground Task Force had to work together with the community.
At the Inclusive Playground Task Force’s meetings, organizations located around the park, from the schools nearby to the church and synagogue around the corner, came to share their ideas, Genn said. Genn and Fine also talked with teenagers who use wheelchairs and parents of children with disabilities to hear about their experiences and what they wanted to see in a park.
After getting input from the community, the Task Force worked with the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center), a design firm that focuses on building inclusive spaces for people of all abilities. Every structure in the park was designed around the 7 Principles of Universal Design, created by a group of architects in 1997 and defined by the Disability Act 2005 as the composition of an environment so that it can be accessed by people of all abilities. These principles include Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive Use, Perceptible Information, Tolerance for Error, Low Physical Effort, and Size and Space for Approach and Use. Finally, Genn and Fine worked with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation to make their proposal a reality.
Overall, the project cost $7.1 million, Genn said. To raise the money needed for remodeling, Fine, DeLazzero and other members of the CB7 Task Force met with many city officials, including then Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and then Council Member Mark Levine. On November 18, 2019, the Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground was officially opened.
The Friends of the Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground hosted their first “It’s Our Park Day” on November 21, 2021. The event marked the start of the school year and the return to in person learning, Genn said: “It was a way to say, ‘Welcome back everybody!’”
After the success of the first event, the group decided to plan another “It’s Our Park Day” to take place after the school year’s end this past Monday. “We kind of snuck it in at the last minute,” Genn said.
The playground includes many features that make it accessible to everyone. “We wanted to make sure that a child with a mobility disability, a child with a sensory disability, a child with a developmental disability all had something to play with,” said NYC Parks Accessibility Coordinator Christopher Noel.
The park includes raised plant pots, adjustable basketball hoops, picnic tables accessible to children in wheelchair, a standing chalkboard, and a jungle gym with a two-way ramp, allowing kids to move from either end. “We also have a lot of ground level play,” Noel said.
At the event last Wednesday, kids of all abilities were moving around the park and enjoying spending time outdoors with their friends. “For the most part, you see a lot of kids just running up and down and around. They don’t even know that it’s for kids of all abilities. They just think it’s a playground,” Noel said.
“But, the key thing is, imagine you are a child in a wheelchair, and you’re playing with your friends who aren’t in wheelchairs. Now you can chase them and you can run around after them. That’s the purpose of inclusive play. There are no barriers.”