Bentonville Parks and Recreation officials opened Bentonville’s first inclusive playground Oct. 19 at Citizens Park, with equipment made for children with mental and physical disabilities.
David Wright, the Bentonville Parks and Recreation director, said officials wanted to give children a place to play together without obstacles that might hinder children with disabilities, he said.
For Susan Roberts, 46, the new park gives her 11-year-old son TJ, who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when he was seven months old, a new place to play closer to their home in Bella Vista, she said.
“It’s just nice that he will actually be able to play with his peers and do playground activities just like the other kids do, since he has no mobility and no movements,” Roberts said. “To have these specialized pieces of equipment for him like swings and the zipline will be great for our family to have a place to play with other kids.”
Additionally, the playground has a chill-out chair, that a child with autism can turn around when he or she experiences a sensory overload, Wright said.
Cerebral Palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance and posture, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wright thought the reception from the parents and the kids on the playground was generally positive, he said.
“The thing that I’m most excited about is that there are kids that are on the playground and they are using it and they are enjoying it,” Wright said. “That's why we did this.”
The playground’s grand opening featured a speech from Andrew Peterson, a three-time Special Olympics gold medalist and his father, Craig Peterson, from Indianapolis, Indiana.
Andrew Peterson spoke to the large crowd about his experience growing up with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and how he overcame obstacles throughout his life.
Craig Peterson hoped the speech would inspire the children at the ceremony, so they could overcome their differences and play together at the park.
At the opening ceremony, Wright hoped parents would appreciate all the inclusive equipment the Parks officials installed for everyone, he said.
“Oftentimes that wheelchair is a barrier between two people to be able to play and communicate,” Wright said. “What we are doing here is we are removing that barrier.”