KC Zoo says it's first to open 'all-inclusive' playground for kids with disabilities

The Kansas City Zoo and Variety KC are teaming to create a play area for children with disabilities.
The Kansas City Zoo and Variety KC are teaming to create a play area for children with disabilities. The Kansas City Zoo and Variety KC

Children with disabilities and special needs will soon get a play area at the Kansas City Zoo.

The zoo and Variety KC on Thursday announced they are building "the first all-inclusive playground of its kind at any zoo nationwide."

The $250,000 project is a collaboration between the animal park and Variety, which provides adaptive equipment and opportunities to play and learn for kids with developmental disabilities. The area is scheduled to open this spring.

The play area will include a zip line with companion harnesses so a parent or a partner can accompany a child.

It will have an "elephant swing" that can accommodate multiple kids so they can enjoy the experience together.

It will have a safe but solid (not mulched) ground surface to accommodate power wheelchairs.

It will also have a low-sensory quiet zone. Sensory kits will be available for checking out at the zoo's guest relations desk.

The inclusive play area will also be of benefit to parents or grandparents who are disabled or mobility challenged. An adaptive family golf cart will be available for transportation.

"Play time is the key time for children to learn to interact, to resolve conflict and realize we're all different," said Variety KC Executive Director Deborah Wiebrecht on the organization's website. "Because the majority of playgrounds and play areas are not inclusive, some children don't often meet their peers with special needs. Inclusive opportunities like the zoo's will allow peers to meet and play together, overcoming obstacles and differences together.

"This is how a caring community is created," Wiebrecht continued. "This is how to raise open-minded, empathetic and cooperative adults."

The play area will be in the African section between the painted dog and hippo exhibits and near the boat landing dock. It is expected to open in May. Variety KC is accepting donations.

"The new Variety KC Exploration Play will help ensure that all of our guests, including those with disabilities, have a positive experience," zoo Director Randy Wisthoff said in an announcement. "We want every family that visits to be able to make wonderful memories together at the zoo."

Zookeepers make a special effort when it comes to making sure the baby animals are well cared for.