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A new Ohio playground allows kids of all abilities to play together

A woman slides down a tall green slide with her 6-year-old son in her arms.
Kendall Crawford
Ohio Newsroom
Emily Nagy and her son Josiah try out the slide at Bryan's new inclusive playground.

So far, the summer afternoons at Lincoln Park in Bryan have been packed. Kids zigzag their way through crowds, playing tag around swirling slides and taunting their parents to catch them if they can.

Josiah Nagy is giggling alongside them. He can’t contain his joy as his father carries him down a slide, made up of small rollers. The bumpy slide is perfect for neurodivergent children who seek out heightened sensory experiences, like Josiah.

The smiley 5-year-old has developmental disabilities and gets around in a wheelchair. But his mom, Emily Nagy, says he still likes to go fast.

“You think of a typical five year old, they're running nonstop all day,” Emily said. “And so, if he can get that burst of something fast, he loves that.”

A 6-year-old boy smiles widely has his father helps him down a sensory slide.
Kendall Crawford
Ohio Newsroom
Josiah Nagy loves the sensory slide feature at Lincoln Park's new playground.

There are plenty of places to go fast at this playground. The park in the northwest corner of Ohio has all the typical fixtures of fun: slides, a row of swing sets, monkey bars. A crowd of community members came to its grand opening this month to celebrate the new polished play equipment, and, more importantly, the kids who will be able to use it.

Barriers to play

Like most kids, Josiah loves playgrounds. But, at most parks, families like the Nagy’s struggle to navigate wheelchairs through wood chips or find a shady place to take a break. That’s an important feature for kids like Josiah, who struggle with heat regulation.

The Nagys say the typical playground isn’t designed for kids like Josiah.

“Sometimes we go and there’s not even a swing he can play in,” Emily said.

It’s a predicament that Paula Kline knows well. Kline was a paraprofessional at the Bryan City School District for 12 years. And she said finding a space where her special education class could all play was difficult. They had to travel over an hour away and out of state for a suitable spot, which cut down on playtime and made the trips a rare occasion.

A woman in a red shirt smiles in front of a colorful playground.
Kendall Crawford
Ohio Newsroom
Paula Kline worked for a decade to bring an inclusive park to Bryan.

For the last decade, she’s dreamed of making that trip shorter for her former students.

“We need a park where all can play together. Babies, handicap, non-handicap: Everybody can play, develop and learn together,” Kline said.

An inclusive space

That dream came true this month with the opening of the playground at Lincoln Park.

It’s one of more than 40 so-called inclusive playgrounds across the state, according to a database by Accessible Playgrounds.

Some of the accessible features are clearly visible: there are ramps, handicap accessible swings, a rocking ‘boat’ that’s wide enough for a wheelchair.

A colorful playground in Bryan is accessible to children of all abilities.
Kendall Crawford
Ohio Newsroom
Lincoln Park's inclusive playground is designed for children of all abilities in mind.

But others are more subtle: a sign posted near the slide with the alphabet in sign language, a panel of braille by the monkey bars, and plenty of canopies to help kids like Josiah to cool down.

Bryan Parks and Recreation director Ben Dominique said all of these features help ensure the playground can be used by all kids. At first, they considered adding a small accessible area to an already existing park, but he said they nixed that idea.

“We didn't want to further separate them,” Dominique said. “We wanted to make sure that whatever we did was inclusive for all. And they could all play on the same playground.”

Playing together

Josiah and his dad, Luke, like it that way. But he said the community was able to raise the $700,000 for the playground because it’s a win for every family in Bryan, not just his own.

“People might think, ‘Oh, this is going to be boring for normal kids.’ It's not,” Luke said. “The vast majority of the kids here don't have any kind of handicap at all, and they seem like they're having a good time.”

A panel at Lincoln Park Inclusive Playground has small icons of every piece of playground equipment.
Kendall Crawford
Ohio Newsroom
Nonverbal children can use these picture panels to communicate what piece of playground equipment they want to play on.

Squeals of delight echo through the park all afternoon, with the biggest bursts of joy coming from the park’s centerpiece, a tall green slide.

Kids scramble up the stairs and form a line that bounces in anticipation. They take turns sliding down, each met with encouraging shouts by their parents.

Josiah and his mom zip down the slide together, their laughter indistinct from the families around them.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.