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Images courtesy of the Keith Family YMCA.

In its continued mission to serve the community, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte recently opened an adaptive playground for children at the Keith Family YMCA Branch.

The playground officially opened on September 24, 2022. Grandparents or caregivers with their own limitations can use the area and re-engage with their loved ones. Joyce Tompkins, the executive director at the Keith Family YMCA, said the playground was needed due to over 8,000 families being within a 12-mile drive of the Y who have someone in their home with a disability.

“This playground is now a community resource for those families and the rest of the community to have a place to experience the joy of an inclusive and accessible playground,” said Tompkins. “It will benefit our organization and our members by serving as a place that truly is ‘for all.’ Our mission statement says we put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body, for all. This playground provides that opportunity.”

Planning and Playground Features

Tompkins said her Y is home to several adaptive sports programs including Miracle League. The league is a baseball program for children of all abilities played on Charlotte’s first completely wheelchair-accessible baseball complex.

“Families travel from all across the Carolinas to participate in the program,” said Tompkins. “They now have a fully accessible playground to enjoy as well. As we visited other Miracle League fields in surrounding counties, we noticed a trend moving towards adding adaptive playgrounds alongside the baseball fields. We had the necessary space. Graciously, a private donor was willing to partner alongside us to make it happen on our property.”

After visiting Miracle Leagues, the leadership team at the Y then began researching other adaptive playgrounds. They learned there were only two others.

“We did some field trips to South Carolina to visit different adaptive playgrounds,” said Tompkins. “We got connected to contractors who specialize in building adaptive playgrounds. That got the ball rolling for our blueprint and design.”

The playground includes sensory play pieces for children, spaces for solitude, wide ramps for wheelchairs to easily accompany youth onto pieces, diverse seating options allowing wheelchairs or walkers to easily access, safe and soft flooring for transition from piece to piece seamless and safe, and versatile pieces that allow individuals with or without upper/lower mobility to still experience the play features.

Adaptive playground

Community Feedback and Best Practices

Tompkins said the reaction from families has been overwhelmingly positive. “They love the vibrant colors, the thoughtfulness of the pieces and the versatility. They are often shocked to see how individuals in chairs and walkers can be included in the fun,” she said. “Also, it’s very humbling to see parents get teary eyed by merely watching their children engage in activities they weren’t ever sure they would be able to watch them experience.”

Aside from the benefits to the Y, Tompkins said the new area will help provide confidence and positive self-esteem. Playgrounds are where friendships are made, youth learn to solve problems, and they can try new things.

Before considering adding adaptive playground to your community rec center, Tompkins advised to visit other inclusive areas.

“Tap into your inner child and play on the pieces,” said Tompkins. “Get the understanding on the various play pieces so you can make thoughtful decisions on the pieces you want and how it will fit into the space you have available. Talk to the families utilizing the pieces to learn what’s important to parents as it relates to the play structures. Learn how it impacts the various disabilities individuals have.”

Further information on the accessible activities offered at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte and at the Keith Family Branch can be found at https://www.ymcacharlotte.org/mission/social-responsibility/access-for-all/accessible-activities/miracle-league-baseball.


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John Reecer

John Reecer is an assistant editor at Peake Media.

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