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Saxon Woods Playground: A Wheelchair Friendly Park (1997)


Ask anyone what the word stands for.  Chances are, what comes to mind is something along the lines of the "preferred" dictionary* definition; i.e., an outdoor area set aside for recreation and play, especially one containing equipment such as seesaws and swings.  Yet, if you go back to the dictionary and read further, you’ll find the second definition:  a field or sphere of unrestricted activity.  A more meaningful concept, but is it real or even realistic to expect that kids with sensory and or mobility impairments should enjoy what their playmates take for granted within their defined field or sphere of unrestricted activity?

Think about your last trip to a schoolyard, neighborhood play area or one of the commercial theme parks.  Do you remember any children who have mobility impairments wheeling onto a ride?  How about a wheelchair or braces in bumper cars?  Were there kids in chairs on swings or playing basketball?  If you have a disability, think about your own childhood.  How did you get onto the roller coaster; was it an easy fit behind the safety bar?  Were you able to really play with your neighbors at these facilities?  Did you enjoy yourself?  Probably not.

Westchester County is about to change that. 

On January 23, 1997, County Executive Andrew P. O'Rourke announced that children with disabilities will help the county design a wheelchair-friendly special-needs play area -– a sphere of unrestricted activity -- along side an inter-generational picnic area at Saxon Woods Park in White Plains.  This concept is based on Jonathan’s Dream, a wonderful playground built in memory of a little boy named Jonathan Barzach. Located on the grounds of the West Hartford (CT) Jewish Community Center; this wheelchair-friendly playspace is a labor of love on the part of Jonathan’s parents, Amy and Peter Barzach, and the surrounding community.

Great ideas are meant to be shared!  Westchester’s goal for the Saxon Woods project is a site where activities and equipment can be accessed in a wheelchair.  Park equipment will be installed so that mobility-impaired persons of all ages can picnic with ease.  And if the kids concur, there will be a small basketball area as well as a sensory garden for those who are visually impaired.

Thanks to the generosity of volunteers, the county is moving forward to make Jonathan’s Dream a Westchester reality.  Members of the Design Team include:  Helen Macko (AIA); Hernando Lamela (Fuller & D’Angelo, PC); and Jeffrey Williams (City of Yonkers). M.G.Power(Westchester Institute for Human Development) is the team’s liaison to educational and training agencies serving special needs children.

During the coming weeks, this talented group will develop a site plan based on actual ideas and “wish lists” generated by kids with disabilities during a series of "Design Days" -– the first of which was hosted by the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Westchester. Young people from county-funded Invest-in-Kids programs; i.e. Ossining CAP (Community Action Program), Slater Center in White Plains and the White Plains Youth Bureau have volunteered to serve as "buddies", helping our young designers draw and build models of their creative ideas.

Since the county’s playground announcement was made, people throughout the region have called to offer help and support.  Their talents will be put to good use throughout the development process and especially during “Construction Weekend” targeted for October 4&5 of this year.  “Thank you” in advance should go to our early morale boosters:  Mary Carlucci and her New Rochelle scout troop; Ruth Kamerman and Organization of  People Undaunted by Stroke; Kathy Kellogg (BOCES); and Westchester Disabled On the Move, Inc.; Rich Manley (Office for the Disabled) and a growing list of participants who have voiced their support and commitment to see this project through. Westchester County generously donated the land and is covering much of the project costs; private funding is needed for play equipment and the sensory garden; as such, a fundraising breakfast will be held on Sunday, September 7, 1997.      



* American Heritage Dictionary