Laughter filled the air June 20 as Mayor Peggy Dunn cut the ribbon on Leawood’s newest playground within City Park — one that’s accessible to kids with a range of disabilities. The driving force behind the play area’s accessibility has been Variety KC, the Children’s Charity, which provides mobility support to children throughout the metro area.
Partnering with the city of Leawood and the Leawood Foundation, Deborah Wiebrecht, executive director of Variety KC, helped steer the project.
“Sometimes playground equipment companies and cities don’t understand,” Wiebrecht said. “Children with wheelchairs can’t go through mulch or manufactured woodchips. If (a chip) gets into a $30,000 wheelchair, it will break it.”
In addition to a foam-rubber surface, the playground also features ramps to access jungle gym, toys at wheelchair-height and swings and a zipline with special harnesses right alongside typical playground swings.
When these items are available, kids with and without disabilities can play together.
“You forget they have a special need, and they just become a child or friend,” Wiebrecht said. “We want to give opportunities for those kids to be out in public, meeting other people. You learn inclusion, you learn diversity, you learn acceptance, and that’s what this is all about.”
It can be difficult for parents of children who have mobility problems and other disabilities to find places for their kids to play.
“I can’t tell you how awful it is when you have to look at your kid and tell them they can’t participate, because they haven’t found a way to adapt it,” said David Miles of Olathe, who attended the playground opening with his 3-year-old son, Benjamin.
Sara Bloomfield of Leawood said she’s also had trouble finding play places for her 5-year-old daughter, Olivia.
“There’s not another playground in the area that she can go to, so this is beyond special for us,” she said of the Variety KC Playground.
“Olivia’s in a powerchair, so being able to access (playgrounds) is really the biggest part. A lot of playgrounds have a ramp to get there, but they don’t have a solid surface, they don’t have equipment that’s designed for wheelchairs, so Olivia ends up getting left out.”
For Bloomfield, the playground is more than just a place for Olivia to play outside.
“She can’t go to a friend’s house. They’re not wheelchair accessible. She can’t go to any parks in our neighborhood,” Bloomfield said. “This is a place where she can come and play with her friends, and that’s really priceless.”
Wiebrecht estimated the playground’s cost at more than $750,000. Additional sponsors for the project included Royals Charities, Royals Alumni, the Courtney Turner Trust, Mariner Foundation and MW Builders.
Variety KC has helped build other accessible playgrounds in Olathe, Independence and Tiffany Springs.
“We’re hoping people will look at this and think about this when they’re redesigning their playgrounds,” Wiebrecht said. “It doesn’t look like a special-needs playground. It looks like a fun playground for all.”