TAPT carrying idea forward of a new park or special equipment for children with mobility issues

Swings, slides, monkey bars, merry-go-rounds: fun things community parks offer for kids and, yes, even adults.

But what about the estimated 220 children on the Westside with mobility issues? For these 11 score children – about two-thirds of whom live in the Taft area -- a merry-go-round without special back support, a slide without an access ramp, monkey bars too high off the ground mean they can’t experience the simple joys of a day at the park.

Bakersfield has or soon will have four parks that offer equipment that can be used and enjoyed by both children with disabilities and able-bodied children.

The Taft Abilities Partnership Team would like to see either a park for children with mobility issues, or more likely, the addition of equipment that can be used by children with handicaps added to existing parks on the Westside. TAPT is affiliated with the Toward Independent Living program at Taft College.

“We want to get the community behind us, get them interested,” said Becky Roth, Taft College Early Childhood Education instructor. “It could be a new park or added to an existing park.

“An existing park site would have bathrooms, parking and other facilities. It’s cheaper to adapt existing parks than to start from scratch. We could add one item or more to start. Add a rail or a ramp, replace the wood chips (under the equipment) with mats.

“It would be nice to have a whole park where children of all abilities can come to.”

A growing movement

Parks built from scratch that are designed for children with mobility issues are becoming more-and-more common.

An example is Shane’s Inspiration in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. It is near the Griffith Park Observatory and only a few miles from Dodger Stadium. There are at least 35 other such parks in various parts of California, including nearly a dozen in the Los Angeles area and the four in Bakersfield.

According to the Shane’s Inspiration Website, “projects are designed to be independently playable for children with disabilities while delighting typically-able children as well. These free, outdoor play environments are age-appropriate and include safe, state-of-the-art, sensory-rich structures that encourage healing in children with developmental disabilities.”

In a letter sent last year to Roth from Cherylle Mallinson, interim director of community services for Kern Regional Center, Mallinson wrote: “I am also wondering if your committee has thought about doing something similar to Harper’s Playground?

“Harper’s Playground is currently in Portland, Ore., but is catching movement across the states. It is a wonderful concept that incorporates everyone regardless of age or disability to engage in play ‘Where Children and Adults of All Abilities Play Together.’

“I am a parent with special needs and this continues to be an issue in the people I serve/support as well as the people in my life. I am personally looking to see if this can be done in Kern County.”

Mallinson’s letter was written in mid-November. Early in January, Bakersfield unveiled two playgrounds that feature handicap-accessible equipment, The Bakersfield Californian reported.

Class project

The idea for a Westside facility usable by children with mobility/disability issues had its birth a decade ago in an assignment in one of Roth’s classes, she said.

“One student had a child in a wheelchair,” Roth said. “We took … (the idea) to the Taft City Council, Taft College. Everybody was very supportive. But the interest dwindled as the students left the area.”

But now two students who worked on the initial class project are back in the area and anxious to work toward creating one or more facilities on the Westside usable by children with mobility/disability issues.

And one of the former students, Nicole Perry, spoke at the recent TIL Wine Tasting event about her college project. Perry discussed the For the Love of Aimee Park that was built in San Jose with the help of the Rotary Club.

Now “TAPT … has decided they want this project picked up and run with,” Roth said. “Next (school) year TAPT will have a subcommittee to continue the efforts to bring this to the community, to get donations. Really, it all will depend on funding.

“I’m really excited that two students from the original project will be on the committee. The hope is for a whole playground where everyone can just play, learn respect for one-another; a playground where kids get together and talk, … to know one-another, to look beyond disabilities.”B