A look at Moss Universal Park, where people of all abilities will get exhausted from play
When some people go to a park, they run, jump and play without a second thought. But for others, it’s more complicated. Some parks’ paths aren’t accessible for those with mobility devices, some playgrounds don't accommodate visual or physical limitations, many fields aren't built for wheelchair baseball. And if areas are accessible, they can sometimes be isolating, not made to allow play side-by-side with able-bodied peers.
That’s why Damian Buchman, executive director of the Ability Center, knew it was time for a change. He’s spearheading what he describes as the first-of-its-kind Moss Universal Park, an area in the works in Wauwatosa where everyone can access fulfilling play, whether they have a disability or not.
This issue is personal for Buchman. He was diagnosed with childhood cancer when he was 13 years old, first in his right leg, then rediagnosed in his left leg. “So I've had 28 knee replacements and revisions since I was a kid," he says. "But more importantly, I'm a father of three boys, and I want to be able to play with my boys, regardless of where my ability or mobility is found, and they want to play with me.”
He says that the most important message is that Moss Universal Park will have inclusive playgrounds for kids, but also for parents, who are the ones kids turn to and want to show off to, with the universal “hey, look what I can do!” Buchman says it’s more fun when parents with disabilities can also get in on the play, as well.
The park area was strategically chosen because of its equity for people with disabilities, says Buchman. “The location is less than a mile from the level one trauma care center in the Milwaukee area. It's a block from the Milwaukee County Zoo, it's across the street from a significant elderly home and also kitty corner to Froedtert’s rehab hospital,” he notes. “It's pretty close to the border of Milwaukee County and Waukesha County. And then it's also makes it accessible to van line systems for people who have transportation needs, but also the heaviest traveled bus route in the entire system of Milwaukee County Transit, which allows for less mountains that people have to climb in order to get to the ultimate destination.”
Buchman says from an accessibility and transport standpoint, this is the most accessible location.
The goals are that the space will be inclusive for able-bodied people and kids and adults with disabilities, and that it will be challenging and interesting for all the different populations. “So we've got to bring more activity, more adventure, more danger into the design,” he says.
From a playground perspective, this means helping create the first ever wheelchair shoot, or wheelchair slide, that Buchman says has never been done before. They’ve also created something called “inclusion tower” that will get kids that may be wheelchair users but who have the capacity to climb that up to 12 feet, out of their chair and climbing. The playground will have double-wide ramps, says Buchman, “so that children who are wheelchair users feel welcomed, wanted and comfortable when they're playing, and that they can interact in a multitude of ways.” There will be a universal baseball field and space for wheelchair football and basketball, an accessible and meandering path through about 12 acres of woods, and a challenge course.
What to expect with the challenge course? “We created an inclusive model where I can race against my typically developing friend or able-bodied friend, and we can play together and it has sensory spaces inside of that challenge course as well,” explains Buchman. “And, so, whether we're talking about intellectual and developmental disabilities to physical disabilities, that's what universal is about. We're really thinking about everybody, all human experiences, and what people's needs are as individuals versus, you know, kind of a perceived collective whole.”
The universal field at Moss Park will create an opportunity for people of all abilities to play side-by-side. “Say, a high school baseball game to get going alongside a Miracle League baseball game,” explains Buchman, “and people are connecting together seeing one another and seeing what their capabilities and their abilities really are.”
He says a community comes with people who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, physically challenged or having sensory issues. He notes they may have Autism or Down syndrome or be typically developing or neurotypical. “I mean, it's all of the things, right? And that's what we're saying, that's what universal is. We're saying that [all aspects need to be universal] from the fields to the forestry, from the playground to the fitness, from the bathroom and special care needs to temperature regulation.”
Buchman says he doesn't want anybody to leave the park because they have some kind of unmet special care need, but because they're exhausted.