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Edmonds boy with cerebral palsy inspires inclusive playground

The Daily Herald - 7/27/2019

EDMONDS — When the Kuehn family used to head to the playground, it usually meant a drive to Bothell or Bellevue, even though they lived near Seaview Park in Edmonds.

"We didn't really go to the park and it was sad," said Julie Kuehn.

Her son, Jacob, 4, has cerebral palsy, which affects his balance and mobility. Seaview, like many area parks, and especially playgrounds, was only nominally accessible to him. Wood chips and other materials used for fall surfaces at many made it difficult to maneuver the wheels of his walker and sometimes unsteady legs. Nor could Julie carry him like she had when he was younger and smaller.

"He's such a happy kid all the time that I think I underestimated how sad it made him not to be able to play."

On Wednesday, Jacob darted around the climbing dome, play fort, spinning wheel and swing set at Seaview, playing tag with several other children, none of whom were asking about his walker.

Children chasing each other in a cacophony of joyous giggling, laughing and squealing was the picture-perfect example of why the City of Edmonds installed new inclusive-style equipment at Seaview, said Julie Kuehn, who was among a few dozen people on hand Wednesday for the official opening of the renovated playground at 8030 185th Street SW..

"The whole point is for them to play together," Julie Kuehn said.

The new playground includes a cushioned fall surface, two swing sets with a total of seven seats — including an adaptive swing, a disc swing and a toddler bucket — a spinning cone that could provide a bit of shelter for someone struggling with sensory issues, and a ground-level "store" that's already doubled as a lemonade stand beneath the fort.

Kuehn said a lot of people came together to make it happen. They wanted to create of place where children played together, regardless of any cognitive or physical differences.

"It's very heartwarming," Kuehn said.

Mike Nelson, a city councilman and candidate for mayor, said the Kuehn family inspired him to seek funding for the project. Prior to setting the city's budget for 2019, he posted a question on social media about the city's parks. Julie Kuehn responded, saying she wondered where to take her son, whose mobility needs excluded many play spaces.

Nelson encouraged her to seek the changes she wanted from the city council. So she and Jacob attended a meeting, where the council saw some of his mobility issues.

The council supported funding the playground, which was already in line for renovation.

Edmonds City Councilwoman Adrienne Fraley-Monillas was at the playground's opening with her 27-year-old son, whose developmental disability often kept him from parks because of concerns about his balance. On Wednesday, he happily snapped a selfie from one of the new swings.

"I could never have allowed him to play on the stuff (before)," she said, referring to previous designs that had the playground equipment installed over concrete.

Carrie Hite, Edmonds parks director, said Seaview Park's play equipment cost $120,000 and the cushioned surface $90,000. Getting the space graded and everything installed — a fence replaced the seat wall that separated the play area from a steep hill popular for sledding, but dangerous for unexpected tumbling — took parks crews about three weeks.

In 2017, there were 132,900 people categorized as blind and disabled in Washington who received benefits from the Social Security Administration. Of those, 10,155 resided in Snohomish County, including 1,145 children under age 18.

Inclusive play is a concept that is gaining more attention, City of Everett spokeswoman Kari Goepfert said. It appears to be the new norm as parks departments and districts build and renovate their play areas.

Public-funded park playgrounds are required to be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, referred to as ADA. Since 2010, Goepfert said, playground equipment and facilities that are built or renovated must adhere to the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. In Everett, there are six park playgrounds with rubber tile surfaces that provide easier access to the equipment. Forest, Garfield, Legion and Lions parks have inclusive equipment, such as adaptive swings.

Miner's Corner in Bothell was Snohomish County's first 100-percent universally accessible park. And the county recently installed a new dock with a mobility ramp into the water at Wenberg County Park near Stanwood.

In Edmonds, with children playing on every slide, swing, tunnel and wheel, Mike Nelson said the city was proud to surpass accessibility minimums and fund inclusive design.

"This takes us closer to the ideal," he said. "The idea is that everybody's interacting together."

Julie Kuehn said her greatest hope is that such spaces make people more familiar with others' differences.

"If they are experiencing this when they're young, it makes them more empathetic adults," she said.

Jacob was busy playing and unable to be caught up with for an interview.


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