With spring fever in the air, families—especially kids—are anxious to get outdoors. And there’s no better way to spend a beautiful afternoon than at a park where children can freely have fun on a playground. But there’s an unfortunate reality for many families in West Omaha, and that’s the lack of an accessible, barrier-free playground for kids who have mobility, sensory, vision, and hearing impairments. There are two community visionaries who are on a mission to try and change that.
Lauren Citro and Meaghan Walls met a number of years ago at the Children’s Respite Care Center. Walls worked in the rehab department where Citro would bring her son, Brody, who has spina bifida. Brody and Walls’ daughter, Avery, often played together at the center. The children became friends, and then their mothers struck up a friendship as well. Citro wanted to find a place close to their homes in West Omaha where the kids could play together outdoors, but because Broday uses a wheelchair and walker, the search proved difficult. The closest playgrounds he could access were located more than a 30-minute drive away. She called Omaha Parks and Rec and found out the playground at Zorinsky Lake needed to be refurbished. Citro asked the simple question: if they raised the money, could they design a new playground? The answer was yes, and Imagine Inclusion was born.
Walls and Citro are uniquely positioned to take on this endeavor. Walls has a professional background in designing products and environments to be more accessible and inclusive. Citro knows the struggles of finding places to take her children to play outdoors—especially with one child who has mobility issues and another who doesn’t. They know what features are necessary to meet the needs of the entire community. But they couldn’t do it alone. So the women partnered with Crouch Recreation, which has already built several accessible, inclusive playgrounds. Citro and Walls drove the playground’s design, and Crouch Recreation created all the renderings.
Once the funds are raised, it will only take them 6-8 weeks to install the playground and surface. All that’s left is to raise the money–$850,000. Including the city’s contribution, $100,000 of this has already been raised. The biggest challenge is to continue to get the word out and find those community supporters. The organization did receive its 501(c)(3) status last fall, which will hopefully open some opportunities for grants, but finding the local corporate and individual sponsors is key.
“Everyone is connected to someone in their life who experiences disability,” Walls said. Whether it’s a child, parent, or grandparent, she explained it’s frustrating when there isn’t a space in West Omaha to host a birthday party or family reunion where everyone can easily attend. Rather, they want everyone to see their needs represented in the way they designed the playground. Zorinsky is not only a popular, central location in West Omaha, but the grounds already have restroom facilities and a picnic area. A truly inclusive playground means that it’s attractive to all ages.
Citro and Walls acknowledged that although there are playgrounds that are considered accessible, there is a whole lot more to it than simply incorporating wheelchair ramps, explaining that these playgrounds meet minimum standards and still allow for woodchips or landing zones that have sand—problematic areas for wheelchairs. “We need to change the way we think about accessible playgrounds and expand people’s perspective on how our community actually functions,” Walls said.
The unique design aspects Citro and Walls have included in the playground support participation of individuals impacted by a wide range of impairments, ensuring options for all park goers. The surface alone will be solid poured rubber, which accounts for one-third of the total cost. There are also high contrast color zones to give visual cues that it’s a transition area on the playground. There are also two ramp access points that connect to make the flow of play easier. Special equipment is also included, such as a merry-go-round that is flush to the ground and has seating, a roller slide that uses rolling pin like cylinders to help with movement down the slide, and a rocking Alta Glider as a substitute to a wheelchair swing.
Citro emphasized that disabilities can be isolating and they don’t discriminate. “It’s going to take a lot of community support because it’s a community space.” Imagine Inclusion has a vision to develop curriculum for a more robust approach to anti-bullying education, and there are other opportunities to expand what they’re doing with playgrounds. But for now, the two moms are focused on getting the word out in hopes of raising the money needed to see their passion project come to life. For information on how to donate, visit www.imagineinclusion.org.