Feedback needed on making parks friendly for kids with disabilities

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 26, 2017

MADISON HEIGHTS — Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett wants to hear from the community on what kind of changes or additions should be made in the parks to make them more enjoyable for kids with disabilities to use.

The City Council has already programmed $25,000 into the current fiscal year’s budget to upgrade playground equipment in the parks.

Another $75,000 is programmed over the next several years for the same purpose, with other revenue in varying amounts for playscape upgrades, trail resurfacing and parking lot improvements.

While nothing is set in stone, Corbett thinks a portion of the money could go toward additions like handicapped-accessible swings or playscapes that are more horizontal than vertical in design, and thus easier for kids with disabilities to enjoy.

But he said he and other members of the City Council aren’t experts on the subject, so they want to hear from residents who may have children with disabilities or know others who do, and what they think would make the parks more accommodating. 

Residents are asked to share their ideas by calling the City Manager’s Office at (248) 583-0829.

“It occurred to me when my wife showed a photo from the internet of a swing that could be accommodating to children in wheelchairs,” Corbett said. “It was a platform attached to the swing, with a ramp you could use to push up the wheelchair, and then you secure the chair to the swing. Otherwise, it operates like a normal swing.”

At press time, Corbett was planning to visit Friendship Park in Orion Township, at the intersection of Clarkston and Baldwin roads, where he heard there is equipment in place for children with physical disabilities. 

“It would be nice to set aside a certain percentage of the money in each of the parks to make accommodations to handicapped children,” Corbett said. “I’m open to the amount. Really, nothing is fleshed out at this point, but I’d be interested in hearing from people on what kind of equipment would be of help or enjoyment to a handicapped child. And I suspect no one would know better than the parents of one.”

Corbett said there was a period during his own childhood when he himself had limited mobility.

“Back in the ’50s and ’60s, there weren’t many opportunities for kids with physical limitations,” he said. “But now with the advancements in plastic and other construction materials, it’s much easier to construct environments that are friendly to these kids, be it swings or playscape. Once I even saw a merry-go-round with open spaces for someone to sit there in their wheelchair.”

The push for more accessible and accommodating parks falls in line with recent upgrades to the parks that aim to make them a more comfortable experience for all.

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss said in an email that the City Council received a lot of helpful feedback in multiple online surveys and two public forums on the topic of park usage and the public’s desires. In addition, Bliss and Mayor Brian Hartwell held a series of small town halls in the parks last summer, where this was a recurring topic.

“Last summer, based on feedback from those mini town halls, I added an item to a council agenda to put portable family restrooms in our most frequented parks: Civic Center Park, Rosie’s Park, Huffman Park and Monroe Park. Initially, it was a test run made possible by reallocating a one-time budget savings, but it was so popular that the program was adopted into this year’s budget as an official council goal,” Bliss said.

“It may not seem like a big change, but seniors and families can now be confident that when they go to these parks, they’ll have a restroom they can utilize, one that includes a changing table so nobody will have to leave the park to use the bathroom,” Bliss said. “As a parent myself, I can’t tell you enough how much that changes the park experience.”

The city also is installing new swings across the parks this year, as well as adding the first new play structure to the parks system since the addition of Monroe Park back in early 2010, he said.

“I’m proud of the steps we’ve been able to take while also taking steps to improve our long-term financial outlook and public safety. But there’s more to do, and during this past goals session we were able to build a nice foundation that we’ll be able to add to in the future,” Bliss said.

“Personally, I’d like to see us make our parks more accessible by adding new recreation equipment into our parks system that’s specifically designed for seniors and those with disabilities. Also, play structures that are specifically designed for toddlers and small children would be a welcome addition,” he said. “Now, the financial realities we’re dealing with mean that we must take a slow and measured approach here, but if we stay focused and keep adding a little bit each year, it won’t take long for our parks to be as comfortable and accessible as we all know they can be.”