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Chapel Hill announces development of long-anticipated inclusive playground


Texture courtesy of Adobe Stock.

After almost 10 years of discussion, the Town of Chapel Hill is in the process of developing an inclusive playground for "people of all abilities" at the Chapel Hill Community Center Park, located on 120 South Estes Dr. 

Amy Ryan, the mayor pro tem of Chapel Hill, said the Town has wanted to build the playground for years, and now, with funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, the project can be completed.

“It's just a really worthy project and one that we've been wanting to do for a long time, and we’re really happy that we got that funding, so that now we can make it a reality,” she said. 

Some features that may be added to the Chapel Hill Community Center Park are sensory elements like activity boards, stress relief elements, like punch pads, and areas for quiet play. 

Tim Miles, the board liaison of the Triangle Disability Awareness Council, said this playground will help create a space of inclusion for children.

"I think with all the different components of life, challenges that we all face as human beings, there's always gonna be one group left out. And disabled people are the first to be left out of something," he said.

Six parks in Chapel Hill have accessibility features required by the Americans with Disabilities Act for children with physical accessibility needs. But, the ADA code does not require design elements that accommodate children with accessibility needs that aren’t physical, such as social and sensory needs, or other cognitive disabilities. 

According to the Town of Chapel Hill's splash pad and inclusive playground site feasibility study, for a playground to be considered inclusive, it must go beyond the ADA requirements for physical accessibility and accommodate social and sensory needs.

Darice Johnson, the co-chair for the Triangle Disability Awareness Council, said the only park that she feels like has inclusive features is Umstead Park. She said the park's padding and equipment in varying sizes for different sized children — such as the swings — are features she has only seen in this location.

Ryan said the key difference between accessibility and inclusivity is that accessible features allow children with disabilities to enter the playground, but inclusive features allow them to play alongside other children and enjoy the same activities. 

The playground was originally planned to be at Cedar Falls Park. But, Chapel Hill Community Center Park was chosen because it would be less expensive to renovate than the Cedar Falls Park, which would require construction of a new playground.

A public input survey found that community members would prefer Chapel Hill Community Center Park. Out of just over 900 survey responses from Dec. 2022 to Feb. 2023, 353 voted to construct the inclusive park at the Chapel Hill Community Center Park.

Meredith Ballew, a parent of a child with autism and a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, said the closest truly inclusive playground is Sassafras All Children’s Playground in Raleigh.

While she said that her son is aging out of playgrounds, she would still like to see a place with facilities that would allow children with disabilities to play alongside non-disabled peers. She also said she and her son would also enjoy safe and fun activities for older children and teens in Chapel Hill.

The Town will hold two listening meetings on the new park this month on Feb. 11 at the Chapel Hill Public Library and on Feb. 15 at the Chapel Hill Community Center Meeting Room.

“I'm just really excited to see the development of this project,” Ballew said. “I'm really happy that the Town of Chapel Hill is considering children of all abilities when creating new facilities for their use.”

@DTHCityState |

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