Austin starts toying with concept for first all-abilities playground
Austin just took a step toward giving all children a chance at playing together with its first public playground for both disabled and non-disabled kids.
The All Abilities Playground at Onion Creek Metropolitan Park is still just in the ideas stage, with its first virtual community meeting occurring on January 18, 2024.
This meeting will bring together community members with Austin Parks Foundation (APF) and Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) in order to "develop a concept plan that will guide the future development of [the playground]." The concept phase is expected to last through the summer of 2024.
“The All Abilities Playground at Onion Creek Metropolitan Park is an exciting project for the city of Austin,” said Colin Wallis of Austin Parks Foundation in a news release. “In collaboration with PARD, our mission for this park is to create a welcoming, accessible, and inclusive playground where everyone can enjoy the magic of play. Community engagement is an important step in ensuring that this playground will be designed with the needs of the disability community, surrounding neighborhoods, and Austin as a whole in mind.”
Right now, based on imagery on the upcoming park's website, the area is just an empty field next to a residential neighborhood. South Austinites may be familiar with the Onion Creek Metropolitan Park already, but it is one of the farthest recreational areas from Central Austin, South of even McKinney Falls State Park and the Onion Creek Greenbelt.
The trade-off after a long drive from North Austin appears to be space; The existing park is 517 acres and is largely undeveloped, so it shouldn't be crowded. According to the website, park features will include "an inclusive play area," accessible inclusive restrooms, shaded picnic areas, parking, pedestrian trail connections, and "innovative stormwater solutions and methods of maintenance."
In this case, it's not just about the physical accommodations. The park website also lists five areas for design goals: "authentic nature," "responsible risk-taking," inclusivity," "productive engagement," and "exploration." One of the more specific targets within these goals involves "medical and academic professionals" to help verify that the spaces are actually accessible for everyone.
“A thoughtfully designed inclusive playground helps children of all abilities grow physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally,” said PARD director Kimberly McNeeley. “We look forward to working with APF to build an All Abilities Playground at Onion Creek Metropolitan Park to reflect the natural landscape and ecology of Onion Creek Metro Park, incorporate characteristics defined in the adopted vision plan, and to meet the needs of the Austin community.”
More information about the All Abilities Playground is available at austinparks.org. The meeting on January 18 will be held from 6:30-8 pm. Register via Zoom. The discussion will include ASL interpretation, Spanish interpretation, and live captioning.