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State Farm

Taking your child to the playground feels like a simple rite of passage.

But for many kids, the ability to play on the monkey bars is out of reach in more ways than one.

Whether it's a jungle gym they can't climb or a slide they can't glide down, children across the U.S. who use a wheelchair or live with other physical disabilities never get to experience park life the way other kids do.  


One father decided to change that — first, in his own community.

Matt West (right) alongside Doug Seegers, director of parks and recreation and a key contributor to the entire cause. All images via Civitan Smiles Park at Kiroli, used with permission.

Matt West is the president of the West Monroe Civitan Club, a nonprofit dedicated to serving children and adults with developmental disabilities. With the help of his fellow Civitans, local government officials, and different members of the community, he set out to make a playground accessible to kids with developmental disabilities so they too could enjoy playground life.

But to make sure it was done right, West reached out to Shane's Inspiration, an organization that builds inclusive playgrounds around the world and aims to eliminate the bias between children with and without disabilities.

Together, they laid the foundation for Smiles Park and began a years-long fundraising mission.

Numerous charity events and government grants later, the playground finally opened to the public June 3, 2017. The park features all the things kids love in a playground — a huge swing bay, ferris wheel climbers, fun houses, carousels, picnic areas, and more. They even have different play areas that spark kids' senses — from touch to feel to sound.

One of the coolest pieces is the Zipkrooz.

"It's kind of a stationary zip line," West said. "It just has a pole coming down with a seat on the bottom and the other one has a seat to put a child that needs assisting in. So [the kids] can slide or zip back and forth side by side."

There are even transfer stations to assist someone getting out of a wheelchair to slide down the slides.

And every play area has a rubberized surface to compensate for height requirements and give kids the perfect cushion to soften any fall.

"You don't have to go in one particular play area on a wheelchair; you can come in from any access you like to because there are no boundaries. There's nothing to stop you," West said.

Their next big step? Breaking down even more barriers by educating children everywhere about embracing one another's differences.

Together with Shane's Inspiration, the West Monroe Civitan Club will be heading to elementary schools to help teach kids with and without disabilities the value of playing together and the steps they can take to start doing that.

In an ideal world, this will become "the new normal."

West hopes to find ways to implement these blueprints for accessible playgrounds into elementary school systems and beyond.

"Hopefully, in the future, they'll just be called playgrounds, not inclusive playgrounds," West said. "It's not just a handicap playground or just where children with disabilities go to play. This is one where everybody comes together."

If you want to learn more about all the amazing things the West Monroe Civitan Club is doing, you can visit their website right here and get involved. Or you can watch this awesome time-lapse video to see how Smiles Park all came together:

Photo by howling red on Unsplash
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