Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Lou Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington), Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington) and Gabriela Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester) to make playgrounds in New Jersey inclusive and capable of catering to children and parents with different types of disabilities was approved Thursday by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee.
“Many parks, including those that are Americans with Disabilities compliant, do not have proper wheelchair access and equipment suitable for all visitors,” said Greenwald. “Inclusive playgrounds allow every child to participate, and allow adults with special needs and accommodations to play with their children on the playground. That should be the goal moving forward.”
Greenwald hailed the nationally-ranked Jake’s Place Boundless Playground in Cherry Hill as a model to follow. “That’s the type of experience we should be working to provide for families so no one is left out,” said Greenwald. “Everyone should be able to fully enjoy a day at the park.”
The bill (A-2187) would require the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), in consultation with the Department of Education, to create rules and regulations for completely inclusive playgrounds that generally exceed current state and federal standards required by the “Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”
“All children deserve a safe place to play, and inclusive playgrounds and parks provide a recreational space for children with disabilities that is adapted for their needs,” said Lampitt. “Inclusive parks provide children with disabilities the ability to play and interact without limitations.”
“These parks provide a fun and safe place for children with special needs to play and engage socially,” said Mosquera. “Building more of these parks not only provides these children with this wonderful opportunity, but can also help educate other children about acceptance and inclusion.”
The bill would also clarify that the DCA commissioner would have to invite and receive recommendations for the adoption of rules and regulations from nonprofit organizations with a demonstrated expertise in the design and construction of inclusive playgrounds. At a minimum, the rules and regulations would require fully accessible playground surfacing, access ramps leading up to and within play structures, and play structures designed to facilitate access for adults and children with disabilities.
The bill would require DCA to propose rules and regulations within 180 days of the effective date of the bill and adopt rules and regulations within one year of the effective date of the bill. The rules and regulations would address various issues related to inclusive playgrounds, including, but not limited to, parking, adaptive restroom facilities, shade areas, fencing, quiet play areas.
The bill would also require that the DEP prioritize any application submitted by a county seeking to acquire or develop lands for recreational and conservation purposes using Green Acres funds, provided that the Green Acres funds requested by the county are to be used for the design and construction of an inclusive playground. Under the bill, additional prioritization would be given to applications submitted by counties that do not currently operate and maintain an inclusive playground, to ensure at least one such playground is operated and maintained by each county.
The bill would take effect immediately and now heads to the full Senate for further consideration.