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Jamie Davis Smith Headshot

D.C. Playgrounds Should Welcome All Children

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When I was pregnant with my daughter, Claire, I dreamed of what her life would be like. I imagined a typical baby jabbering away and a toddler spending her days outside at the park. When Claire was born she was diagnosed with multiple disabilities which meant that her childhood would be far from typical. Still, in the midst of the never-ending cycle of hospital visits and doctor's appointments I sought out places where she could just be a kid and play.

When we moved to a new house when Claire was three I was ecstatic to find one of those places within walking distance. I thought that Claire could spend endless days playing at nearby Chevy Chase Playground because the park had an adaptive swing that Claire, with her low muscle tone and limited understanding, could use easily and safely. The very presence of the swing told me that we had moved into a neighborhood that would fully accept, and even welcome, my daughter. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that I had found a place where she could play side-by-side with her typically-developing brother, laughing as I pushed her as high as she could go, and leaving her many limitations behind to have the same kind of fun that all children enjoy. We met other families with special-needs children at the park who also enjoyed spending afternoons at a playground that welcomed their children.

Unfortunately, the fun was short-lived. In 2011 Chevy Chase Park was closed for an extensive, 4.5-million-dollar renovation. Like the rest of the neighborhood, I looked forward to an improved playground for my children. I even had hopes that the expensive renovation would include additional accessible play areas. As it turned out, that was far from what happened. No new accessible areas were added -- and the adaptive swing was removed.

Beyond being saddened that yet another thing had been taken from my daughter, the removal of the adaptive swing also sends the message that the D.C. government does not consider the needs of people with disabilities. Nearly 25 years after the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, I find it astonishing that the D.C. government would remove equipment meant to make a public space inclusive. I urge D.C. to do the right thing and bring the adaptive swing back to Chevy Chase Playground and to include at least some adaptive equipment in all future playground renovations. These small acts would welcome all children to D.C.'s playgrounds and provide opportunities for children with disabilities to play side-by-side with their typically developing peers. Everyone benefits when we provide such opportunities for interaction and understanding.

I still bring Claire to Chevy Chase Playground. Her brother and new little sister happily play on the new equipment. But, instead of Claire being able to join in the fun, she usually sits in her wheelchair watching other children swing. No longer can she go to the playground and just be a kid. No longer do other kids see her as just another kid playing at the park. Instead, Claire sits separate and apart, her differences from her peers more evident than her similarities.