Making the Minneapolis Parks More Accessible

Tue Jul 16 2019
Molly Peterson.

Molly Peterson (MNLEND Fellow, 2018–19) is serious about play.

“As a pediatric physical therapist, play is a pivotal aspect of my job description,” she says. “Children are motivated to move and master mobility skills in an environment that appeals to them. It needs to be fun, exciting, and a little bit challenging. To me, community playgrounds foster that environment and provide children with or without a disability the opportunity to practice social, cognitive, and physical skills, and most importantly, the opportunity to play with peers. This project aims to stimulate discussion about inclusion and how playgrounds can be a stepping stone to promote inclusion from a young age.”

Peterson is talking about her MNLEND (ICI’s Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities Program) project that recommends the Minneapolis Board of Parks and Recreation make playgrounds more inclusive to people with disabilities. Guided by the playground regulations established in 2010 under the Americans with Disabilities Act, she recommends the park board include a parent or community member who has a child with disabilities on the committee that plans new playgrounds and playground rebuilds. She also wants the park board to consider public transportation when deciding where to locate or rebuild a playground. “Accessibility isn’t just about the playground equipment, but also the ability to get to the park,” she says.

Peterson credits the Minneapolis parks with making playgrounds safer by removing metal slides, using lighter colored materials, and increasing the amount of shade and hydration stations. But she says parks should be more accessible. “My past, present, and future patients inspired this project, and one of the main project goals is to foster a relationship with the Minneapolis parks to encourage the next playground rebuild to be on a bus route, in order to improve accessibility—and in a community with a high disability population—to promote inclusion.”

The project also reflects her Fellowship’s emphasis on policy. “This program has given me a fuller understanding of how policy, and potential policy changes, may affect my patients and their families. The MNLEND program also provided me with a network of colleagues to collaborate with and explore new ideas to help drive change. The healthcare system isn’t perfect, but having been MNLEND trained, I can change my approach to patient care to positively impact the people and communities I serve.”