On a recent summer day, physical therapist Charles Miller took one of his day rehabilitation patients to Akron Children’s newly opened, inclusive playground for a therapy session. To the child, it felt like playtime, but to Charles it was a valuable and objective way for him to assess his patient’s level of independence and functional abilities.
“Patients can get tired of doing the same activities in the gym, but being able to go outside to ride a bike and then play on the playground is a big motivator. You can see their eyes light up,” he said.
The playground replaces the previous one located in Perkins Square Park on our Akron campus. Along with providing a place for our patients and their siblings to have fun and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air, it’s designed to be inclusive for children of all abilities. It was made possible by a generous gift from the hospital’s Women’s Board.
“Creating a space where all children can play, learn and have fun together was central to the design of our new playground,” said Brian Lapolla, vice president of facilities, operations and logistics.
A multidisciplinary team with representatives from physical, occupational and speech therapy was involved in the design process to ensure it also supports outdoor therapy sessions with patients. The team included Katie Kapper Brooks, physical therapist; Roshawnda Wynn, occupational therapist; and Stacey Fernstrum, speech pathologist.
They worked with the design team to include a variety of activities that promote the development of large muscle groups and upper extremity strength. There’s a communication board with symbols that both verbal and non-verbal children can use to communicate and play together. Augmentative communication devices can also be plugged in so children can choose the activities they want to do.
“All three disciplines worked together to look at the whole child and create an environment that is age-appropriate, stimulating and provides opportunities for special needs children to do the same things as other kids,” said Katie.
“I love that it is inclusive to kids with various abilities and provides a fun and safe way to experience play,” said Roshawnda. “The benefit for OT patients, in particular, is that it allows us to provide very functional and fun play experiences that stimulate all of the senses and translate to play experiences they will have in their own home and community environments.”
“I’m most excited that the new playground offers accessibility, fun and excitement for all children,” said Stacey. “The play area benefits speech therapy patients because it incorporates features and activities that support children who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) methods or have limited ability to talk.”
Playground equipment has wide walkways and ramps to accommodate wheelchairs. There’s also a rock and ride toy that allows children in wheelchairs to enter and swing with other kids, as well as a child-sized sliding board, climbing wall, balance beam, stepping stones, grab rings and monkey bars. A soft surface beneath play equipment protects children from bumps and falls.
“The equipment promotes climbing, crawling, balance, going up and down stairs, and walking on different surfaces,” said Katie. “We also wanted to create a multi-sensory experience with interactive activities that make sound and music, and encourage children to touch and explore.”
When the renovation of our Rehabilitative Services department is complete, the waiting room will open into the playground, making it easy for patient families and our therapists to access the new play area.
“There are not many inclusive playgrounds, so it’s exciting to be able to have a place where children of all abilities can play together and enjoy the same activities,” said Katie.