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One Woman's Dream Becomes Every Child's Right to Play

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Play comes naturally to all children. But not all children are able to climb that ladder to the top of the slide, nor can they hold on tightly as the merry-go-round spins.

Play comes naturally to all children. But not all children are able to climb that ladder to the top of the slide, nor can they hold on tightly as the merry-go-round spins.

Sight- and hearing-impaired children are also at greater risk in playgrounds that have not been designed to consider their special needs.

The sad truth is that children with a wide range of disabilities are left on the sidelines of many playgrounds while the other children play. This vivid realization so concerned one woman that she was inspired to do something about it.

That woman is Dr. Karen G. Gordon.

Don’t assume this doctor is a pediatrician. Dr. Gordon is a veterinarian–she was the first female vet in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Boundless Possibilities

In 1999 Dr. Gordon founded the nonprofit organization Right to Play, Inc. Her vision began after reading about a playground that had been built by a community in Connecticut to honour a local child with debilitating spinal muscular atrophy who had died from the disease.

When Dr. Gordon visited the playground she discovered it was unlike any other playground she had seen. She watched children confined to wheelchairs play alongside unimpaired children. Children with developmental and sensory disabilities fit right in with everyone else.
Seeing children equally enabled to enjoy all the pleasures the playground had to offer, Dr. Gordon knew she had to recreate this in her own community.

With technical assistance from the National Center for Boundless Playgrounds, Inc. (another nonprofit organization that works with communities to facilitate the development of universally accessible playgrounds) Dr. Gordon’s organization began to design and build a “barrier-free playground that would enable fully integrated play between children with and without disabilities.”

Dr. Gordon reported recently that phase one of the project is complete and in use while phase two (for two to five year olds) is ongoing. Phase one includes a play structure for five to 12 year olds and a water play area. The simple term “play structure” barely conjures the magnitude of this 5,000-square-foot zone.

Starting with a special rubberized surface to provide cushioned safety and wheelchair accessibility, this structure has ramps, bridges, and walls that enable wheelchair access to all levels, including those over six feet high.

The slides, play panels, talk tubes, multiple climbers, crow’s nests, balance pods, and therapeutic rings offer multiple opportunities for play. Other structures are designed to encourage balancing and improve coordination. For the sensitivities of autistic children, several quiet areas have been created.

One of the most unique aspects of this playground design is the way it brings children playing in the less challenging areas into close contact with children playing in the more challenging areas. This facilitates communication and cooperation between all the children despite their degree of physical activity.

“We are building this playground because all children deserve a safe place to play, with freedom, without ridicule, frustration, or fear,” says Dr. Gordon. This truly is a boundless playground.

For more information on Right to Play, Inc. and Boundless Playgrounds, Inc. visit

  • righttoplay.org
  • boundlessplaygrounds.org
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