FrankTalks: "Inclusive" playgrounds go beyond accessibility to helping communities thrive

FrankTalks: "Inclusive" playgrounds go beyond accessibility to helping communities thrive

PHOTO: Jill Moore of Landscape Structures said people with disabilities can be a community’s best evangelists when it comes to spreading the word about inclusive playgrounds. // Photos by John McBryde


While the Americans with Disabilities Act may have been well-intentioned with its guidelines for children’s play space that became law in 2010, the whole idea of it actually has been quite limiting.

That’s part of the message that Jill Moore, marketing and inclusion specialist with the Minnesota-based Landscape Structures, delivered at Franklin Tomorrow’s FrankTalks session Monday at High Hopes Development Center. The theme focused on inclusive playgrounds, which are part of the plan for Franklin’s proposed Southeast Park. Also speaking were John McConkey, market research and insights manager for Landscape Structures, and city of Franklin Parks Director Lisa Clayton.

Born with spina bifida, and a wheelchair user for most of her life, Moore has been an advocate for inclusive play since she was a young girl. During high school, she helped to write the state regulations allowing those with disabilities to compete and score for their school track teams. Her love of track transitioned to a scholarship at the University of Illinois, where she received her bachelors in industrial design.

John McConkey of Landscape Structures

“I get to use a lot of this input that I’ve gathered through using this wheelchair, having this disability, and sharing it to make sure our products are friendly for everybody,” Moore said. “How we can make sure everyone can come and play?”

It’s not entirely through the ADA, she insisted.

The ADA’s guidelines for playgrounds are geared primarily for those with orthopedic impairments, Moore explained. She pointed out that out of 6.5 million school age children enrolled with disabilities in the U.S., 6.4 million have some sort of disability other than orthopedic.

“We’re really missing the mark if we’re relying strictly on the ADA,” Moore said. “The ADA is a numbers game. It’s all about formulas. … It’s not necessarily about what kind of experience you’re getting. So we’re really missing the spirit of what we’re trying to do if we’re relying on the ADA’s guidelines.

“Being ADA-compliant is the bare minimum. It’s not about having our special-needs, limited-edition kids over here and our normal kids here. It’s about creating a playground for everyone.”

Franklin has some catching up to do in that area, and Clayton spoke to that as she gave an overview of the proposed 233-acre Southeast park slated to be developed in the next few years. Along with ballfields, walking trails, pickleball and basketball courts, a canoe launch, and more, the multi-use park will include a sizable inclusive playground fashioned after those in surrounding communities such as Murfreesboro and Hendersonville.

The availability of inclusive parks goes beyond just being sure those with disabilities have accessibility. It also comes down to economics.

“Communities are really striving to compete with one another to attract businesses, to attract an educated workforce,” McConkey said. “They want to be known for being a thriving livable community with a high quality of life. And they recognize that investing in their parks and their resources is a strategic asset to helping achieve those goals.

“And when you design parks to be more universally designed and inclusive, you’re creating opportunities for a broader segment of the population, all ages, all abilities. And that fosters one of the key aspects we’re all striving for, which is more social cohesion and equitable opportunities for everyone.”

Moore knows this firsthand.

“If we’re building these inclusive parks, people are coming to them, religiously,” she said. “And I know personally that people with disabilities can be your biggest evangelists. If something works for us, we are going to tell the world and we’re going to be loyal to that. We’re going to bring everybody we know to these parks and we’re going to spend time in this area, going to local businesses, local shops.

“So considering this isn’t just an altruistic thing to do anymore. It’s a boost, a positive thing for the economy.”


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