Most of us can recall childhood memories of playing with friends at a local playground. But imagine not being able to fully enjoy having fun with your peers because you weren’t able to access the equipment. This is a reality for many children who have disabilities.
Kennesaw residents contacted city officials about the need for a playground that could be used by all children, and the vision for a more inclusive experience has become a reality at Swift-Cantrell Park at 3140 Old 41 Highway. Through a collaborative effort, Kennesaw has become the home of one of the largest inclusive playgrounds in Georgia.
The universal design with sensory-rich options allows children to develop their physical, social and emotional well-being, according to inclusiveplaygrounds.net, an authority on inclusive play. Besides benefiting the kids, these spaces also benefit their adult caregivers by allowing them to actively engage with the children in their care.
The idea for an inclusive playground was sparked in 2017 by Kennesaw resident Ann Pratt, who suggested it to a council member. Pratt is a retired teacher who worked with children with special needs and understands the value of inclusion. As a member of the Inclusive Playground Committee and the Swift-Cantrell Park Foundation, she did not waver in her determination to have Kennesaw take an idea of a wheelchair swing and turn it into an 18,500-square-foot, fully accessible playground. Pratt’s commitment to the project earned her one of the four inaugural Follow the Leader Awards from the city in June 2022. The awards acknowledge local leaders who are making a difference in the community through their service.
City officials and the Parks and Recreation Department held the initial groundbreaking ceremony in September 2019, with Mayor Derek Easterling and members of the City Council and the foundation in attendance. At that time, plans called for adding 5,000 square feet of sensory-friendly features for children to the existing playground. The addition would expand it to 18,500 square feet of space that would be accessible to all once the existing wood chips were replaced by turf. There also were plans for a sensory play center to help children with their development while they play. This would include tactile elements, so kids could experience shapes, as well as rough and smooth textures.
On Jan. 9, 2020, the city of Kennesaw partnered with the Swift-Cantrell Park Foundation for a grand-opening celebration. The inclusive playground features a large, wheelchair-accessible play structure with a ropes tower, sensory stations, an eight-person wheelchair glider and a slide. Ramps enable the use of pod climbers, a tunnel system and climbing features. No detail was overlooked — there’s even a 40-foot shaded area to keep kids cool while they’re having fun.
In January, the city and the Parks and Recreation Department had another ribbon cutting for the inclusive swing, the main piece of the initial inclusive playground vision. Thanks to funding provided by T-Mobile’s Hometown Grant, it is now available for all to enjoy.
“We are excited to be able to grow our inclusive playground with this new inclusive swing,” Parks and Recreation Director Steve Roberts said. “This entire playground started with the desire to have an inclusive swing, and today, we can make that dream come true. We want to thank T-Mobile for the Hometown Grant; this is a great example of companies giving back to their communities.”
The We-Go-Swing has a 60-by-72-inch entry deck and does not require a transfer from a mobility device. Since it is connected to the ramp, users can easily roll onto it. It also offers enough room for caregivers to ride along with the children.
“Handlebars assist in moving the swing and keeping the users in place and rotate up for easy entrance and exit,” a city spokesperson said. “With all kids on board working together, it is a collaborative effort that builds cooperation and inclusive fun for everyone. Parents in wheelchairs or scooters can give their small child a swing experience on their own, without the need for assistance. The swing also is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant.”
The inclusive playground is another example of how the people of Kennesaw come together for the good of all and create a space for multigenerational play and growth.
– Nicole Smith is a writer, book influencer, dog mom and plant enthusiast living in Kennesaw. Connect with her on Instagram at booked4joy.