CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — With Spring coming later this month, more people are visiting local parks and trails. One particular playground in Kanawha County, West Virginia, is gaining popularity among children of all ages and abilities.
Kanawha State Forest has the only wheelchair-accessible playground in the state parks system. It opened in April 2021 as an extension to the wheelchair-accessible Spotted Salamander Trail.
According to Jennifer Bauman, who is a board member of the KSF Foundation, the playground was privately funded through a combination of grants and donations totaling $80,000.
The funds allowed KSF to purchase multiple pieces of equipment compliant with the American Disabilities Act (ADA).
The playground has four types of swings, including:
- Traditional belt swing — for kids of all ages and sizes to use and enjoy.
- All-access swing — allows small children to swing without having to hold on. A latch comes down over the child’s chest and locks between their legs for security.
- JennSwing — patented design for children with cerebral palsy (CP). It supports children who may not have full muscle control.
- Wheelchair platform swing — allows children and adults to swing without having to get out of their wheelchair.
Bauman said the wheelchair platform swing is a critical component to the playground and was a number one priority when designing the area.
“When you’re a kid, swinging is one of the fun things,” Bauman said. “And then, let’s say you get paralyzed in a car accident or something. You don’t get to do that again unless you have a special swing.”
One of Bauman’s favorite things about the playground is being able to watch kids’ reactions. She specifically remembers a child with cerebral palsy who did not enjoy the traditional toddler swing but loved the JennSwing for kids with CP.
“We have a toddler swing that you can drop a child down in, their legs kind of spread into a rubber holder,” Bauman said. “She didn’t like that, but when she was in the CP swing, she just — eyes closed, she looked like she was in dreamland.”
The playground also has an ADA-compliant climbing apparatus with a transfer platform. Kids can pull themselves onto the platform and go down a slide.
On the playground there are also two spinners that children can take turns pushing each other on. The idea is to encourage interactive play between kids with disabilities and kids without disabilities.
Half of the playground is paved with pour-in-place rubber, the other half with chipped, sterile rubber. The rubber was funded by a cancer group that had in mind people with compromised immune systems, allergies and asthma who are sensitive to woodchips, dust and mold.
Bauman hopes that soon the KSF Foundation can get funding for a missing piece to the wheelchair-accessible area: an ADA-compliant bathroom.
Bauman wants to install vented vault toilets near the playground and trail. Currently, the closest bathroom is one mile away and not ADA-compliant.
The bathrooms are an important part of making the playground an all-around, inclusive experience.
Bauman, whose mother is in a wheelchair, said not having a nearby bathroom cuts people short on their time visiting KSF.
“You got to load her back in the car, you got to reload the wheelchair, take her down to the bathroom, offload her again, take her to the bathroom, reload her again.” Bauman said. “Are you going to go back to the playground, or the trail or the picnic shelter? Probably not.”
Bauman said inclusion and accessibility are keywords in today’s world. She hopes accessibility expands to other state park playgrounds.
Bauman reminds people that individuals with disabilities want to do the things that everyone else does.
“We just seem so divided on everything, and here’s a place you can go and just enjoy and have fun and you know, interact with kids who may be a little different from you, but to gain some understanding from that,” Bauman said.
The wheelchair-accessible playground is located beside the Spotted Salamander trail at 7500 Kanawha State Forest Drive.