On September 26, children and parents from around metro Denver gathered to celebrate the grand opening of a unique new playground at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. What makes this playground special is that its adaptive equipment and accessible design are intended to provide play opportunities to children with special physical or sensory needs. It’s a place where kids of all abilities can gather and play together in a setting that minimizes barriers often encountered at traditional playgrounds.
“There are so many things kids with disabilities can’t do, and we believe having fun on playgrounds shouldn’t be one of them,” says Juliet Dawkins, founder and executive director of LuBird’s Light Foundation, a Denver nonprofit. “Stanley Marketplace is all about community, and it was a perfect fit for an inclusive playground,” she says. “We hope to foster community, friendships, supporting one another, and celebrating our unique differences. What better place for that than a playground?”
TheLuBird’s Light Foundation is named for Dawkins’ daughter Lucia, who was affectionately nicknamed “LuBird.” She was born with a rare genetic condition called Pallister-Killian syndrome (PKS) that limits her mobility. In spite of being nonverbal, legally blind, and in a wheelchair, one of Lucia’s favorite things is swinging in a supported swing.
The launch of LuBird’s Light Playground is the result of several years of fundraising, advocacy, and planning. Donations came from many places; Stanley Marketplace donated 9,000 square feet of outdoor space on the west side of the building for the playground.
“The playground design was a collaboration of many, including parents of kids with special needs, physical therapists, inclusive playground equipment specialists, and a team of design and engineering professionals,” Dawkins explains. “The surface is barrier-free, (made from a soft rubberized material that is both safe for play and firm enough for easy movement for wheelchairs and walkers), there is a wheelchair swing and bouncer, ladder-less slides, musical elements, a custom treehouse accessible by ramp, and much more.”
The entire playground is a grand marriage of art and adaptive design. A series of playful metal arches welcome visitors at the entrance. Tall, bright yellow flower sculptures reach to the sky and colorful playground equipment and activities are all around.
“I like the big slide,” says Henry, a five-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), referring to a large, multi-tiered, ramp-accessible roller slide. Henry, as well as many children in wheelchairs or using walkers, shared enthusiasm for the slide at the grand opening.
“My favorite was the spinning globe,” says Amelia, Henry’s eight-year-old sister. The globe features two levels inside for kids to sit on. A large opening creates easy accessibility for all. “It’s cool how it goes around and around, and you can also climb on it.”
LuBird’s Light Playground has something for kids of all kinds, and that’s exactly the idea. There are lots of fun activities for kids with disabilities, as well as kids without, to join in together. With this location up and running, the foundation plans to open other playgrounds like it in the future.
“We hope that children and families of all abilities come from far and wide to experience our playground, and make it a full day by visiting all the special businesses that Stanley Marketplace offers,” says Dawkins.