An Invitation

image: Grace ‘n’ Chase Photography

The Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) is very pleased to share this blog post about the concept of inclusion and its connection with landscape architecture. A giant thank you to Natalie Mackay, Executive Director of Unlimited Play, for contributing this thought provoking and deeply compelling article. We invite you all to share your thoughts and ideas on this important topic.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, EDAC, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

June 21, 2000. I received the invitation. No one else I had known or knew at that time received this invitation—just me. Membership in this ‘group’ required countless sleepless nights, endless appointments, and patience as I learned a new language. Tired and heartbroken, I found the determination to move forward in hopes of creating something better out of this life-changing circumstance.

My invitation to join the special needs community arrived the day my son Zachary was born and diagnosed with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease. Now, 20 years later, this disease has taken almost everything from Zach, except for his love for life and community. Throughout the last 20 years, I have learned that each one of you has more than likely received, or will receive, a similar invitation. Through family members, close friends, or serendipitous circumstances, you have also been invited to join this close community.

Unlimited Play is a nonprofit I founded in 2003 that is focused on the need to build inclusive playgrounds. More than simply giving children the chance to play was my germ of an idea of building a community focused on inclusion. I dreamed of a place where children would not just see a little boy in a wheelchair, but a new friend. I like to imagine that children who play on the playgrounds we have built grow up to become landscape architects with memories of friendships developed on a playground designed for all children, regardless of situation or circumstance. Those early friendships formed on the playground (that proverbial ‘sandbox’) then become the professional inspiration behind using inclusion as the foundation of each design, no matter what it is, because inclusion is everything and everyone.

Jake’s Field of Dreams Playground in Wentzville, MO honors the life, memories, and dreams of Jake Vollmer. / image: Little Tyke Commercial

As a landscape design professional, you are uniquely positioned in your daily work to help build more inclusive communities. Take a few minutes today to think through your designs. What can you do to help move this idea forward?

Braden and Friends Challenger Playground at the Sainte Genevieve Community Center is a 16,000 square-foot all-inclusive playground named after Braden Schott and designed as a place for children of all abilities to play side by side and give everyone the opportunity to experience what it is like to have fun on a playground. / image: Little Tyke Commercial

In a future article, I will be sharing some inclusive design strategies, but for now, I humbly challenge you to contact one community organization serving individuals with disabilities and listen to what they would need from deep within your personal design philosophy to make it more inclusive. And then, act on it.

Jake’s Field of Dreams Playground, whose mission is “a place where limitations will be forgotten and differences are celebrated!” / image: Little Tyke Commercial

Natalie Mackay is Executive Director and Founder of Unlimited Play. Inspired by her son Zachary, Natalie dedicates her time to building inclusive communities through play.

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