06-29-22 | Feature

The Inclusive Evolution Making Way for Imagination

A place to imagine
by Grace E. Fielder, President, G.E. Fielder

Found in Potomac, Maryland, Hadley's Playground circa 1995, became a model for inclusivity. A roadway ties the central playground together. The Castle in the middle has a "Moat" and drawbridge while the Pirate Ship "Sails" appears to sit on the ocean in the bottom left corner.
Hadleys' Playground features the signboard which became a standard for inclusive signing, this board is three-sided. The entire English alphabet is represented in upper- and lower-case letters, hand signs and braille.
CLEMYJONTRI, in McLean, Virginia opened in 2006 and is organized by rooms with a centrally accessible carousel. The colorful playground provides learning social, physical, cognitive, and emotional skills. The five-solution maze encourages kids to work together to solve problems. A wheelchair dragstrip encourages exercise for all abilities.
Found in Bowie, Maryland, 10th Street Park features replicas of a local bank, church, and house that are 1/12th their original size that provides accessible entrances for wheelchair bound children. Each building has the year it was originally built and the name it was known as, with the 1947 Leurs/Wright Store at the forefront.
Found at CLEMYJONTRI, in McLean, Virginia, the Rainbow Room provides swinging and swaying motions of every type. The colors change with each piece of equipment to form a rainbow. The entry is through rainbow arches that provide an embraceable experience for the visually impaired and blind. A sign in Braille, English and sign, explain colors and red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo violet (ROYGBIV). The schoolhouse and accessible carousel are also a visible tool.
Just beyond a narrow passage between the two sections of the play area, is a faux railroad bridge, beside which sits a train engine. The bridge sits over a small drainage ditch, and enters a world of accessible imagination where you can be a teacher, banker, fireman, sheriff, homemaker, or merchant. The message is "imagine it and you can be it" in this accessible historic town found at 10th Street Park.

Smiles are as infectious on a playground as a yawn is in a classroom. Playgrounds weren't always where children could play together just being children. Life-long memories are built as children learn to play together, learning social, physical, cognitive, and emotional skills. Add to those four: problem-solving, creativity, and imagination. Before the 1990 signing of the American Disabilities Act, pebbles were dropped in ponds that created a ripple effect as advocates began making changes to play spaces. ADA requirements significantly raised the bar, but still left some children out who had needs, desires, and goals beyond ADA. The evolution from accessible to inclusive is worth reviewing. Three playgrounds designed and built in the last twenty-five years are worth examining. Each is public within a fifteen-mile radius of Washington DC. Hadley's Playground, Potomac Maryland, CLEMYJONTRI, McLean Virginia, and 10th Street Park, Bowie, Maryland.


Hadley's was created in 1993 and sits on 34,000 square feet of poured in place surfacing that is animated with themed pieces where designers "sailed" a pirate ship, "dug a moat", and built a "wall". Other areas of highway used for therapeutic walking and trike riding connect transportation, strengthen/balance, picnic, and accessible swings. Reportedly the first-ever signboard with the English alphabet in block letters, signs, and braille was created for Hadley's.

CLEMYJONTRI was deemed a "Swinging Success" in 2006 by the Washington Post. The design preserved and enhanced the natural environment. The "door" swings open into a colorful world where dreams happen and the imagination flourishes. A highway organizes the two acres of poured-in-place surface into rooms. In the center is an accessible carousel. Rooms provide order and opportunities to grow and learn. For instance, the Rainbow room swings, sways, and changes color. Vision impaired can embrace each color of the rainbow as they enter. The end of the rainbow celebrates
red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo violet (ROYGBIV), in English, braille, and sign.
The adjoining School House embeds a color wheel in the floor, and roof uprights each match a color. Different shapes to match each color are on the "floor". The 50 states emblazon the roof's soffit. A five-solution Maze extends the map reading opportunities to the planets and universe. Learning is reinforced. Learning is repeated and taught in different manners. Therapists bring children to Clemyjontri to learn and practice skills.

10th Street Park
10th Street Park was created as a trailhead. Its world of imagination and the natural environment is about preserving old-growth trees, adding new trees, and telling a town's story. It would be accessible to all generations. The playground celebrates the historic town of the early 1900s. A rail town of yesteryear it memorializes homes, churches, schools, banks, fire stations, and stores by making each accessible. Each is 1/12 of its original size providing the original relationship to historic buildings not accessible but still standing.
Roleplay is accessible to wheelchairs and assistive devices. An "address placgue" contains the date of the building and its original name. The park built during the pandemic has been slow to open. More and more people arrive each day, and grandparents find the park accessible and bring children and picnic baskets. Intergeneration play is happening. A place exists to celebrate the Maypole dance once popular in the middle of the 20th century.
The question remains, will 10th Street Park, with its accessible swings, historic buildings, roadway, climber, and locomotive achieve the same notoriety as Hadley's and CLEMYJONTRI or has it achieved what we wish for all playgrounds that children and families no matter their ability have a place to play, be, dream and build memories together. A place to imagine.


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