US Mayor Article

Bloomington, Lincoln Mayors Provide New Recreational Facilities, Accessible to the Disabled

July 31, 2000

On parallel tracks, mayors from two cities recently announced plans to make parks and recreational facilities more accessible for people living with disabilities.

The mayors are John Fernandez of Bloomington (IN) and Don Wesely of Lincoln (NE) who worked hard on both projects which required some forward thinking and comprehensive planning to become a reality.

In Bloomington, Mayor Fernandez on July 14th announced an "Inclusive Recreation" program as part of the city's Parks and Recreation 2001 budget request.

"The Inclusive Recreation program is about allowing as many people as possible to participate in programs and activities that most of us take for granted," said Mayor Fernandez. "We want to make sure that people living with disabilities are aware of all their recreational opportunities in our Parks system. We also want to expand access to our programs and facilities to those in need."

The 2001 budget proposal requests $112,000 in funding for the Inclusive Recreation program. More than one-third of this amount is the result of folding the existing Special Olympics program into Inclusive Recreation. The amount also includes funding for a full-time staff member to manage the program.

"There are programs like this in parks and recreation departments in other communities, but few in Indiana," said Jamie Sabbach, Recreation Services Director for the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department. "We are thrilled to be able to bring these services to the Bloomington community."

Bitta DeWees, Teams Coordinator for Stone Belt, a local organization that serves the developmentally disabled, said she was excited about expanding their current partnership with Bloomington Parks and Recreation through the Inclusive Recreation Program. "This is the sort of program I expect from Bloomington and that makes me proud to live here," DeWees said.

DeWees said that one the best things about programs such as Inclusive Recreation are the opportunities for integration that allow people with and without disabilities to get to know each other better. "This will provide my clients with opportunities they do not currently have. And that provides opportunities for the whole community."

In Lincoln, Mayor Wesely is moving to provide additional city funds for an accessible playground.

Construction on the playground is expected to be finished by the end of July, and the playground will be open to the public at that time. A formal dedication ceremony is planned for September.

The new playground is the largest and most accessible in the region. It has 11 elevated play decks and is the only playground in the city to use ramps to access the elevated areas. Other features include 13 slides, 16 climbers, 28 interactive play panels, a special matted surface, a fun phone system on the elevated decks, age-appropriate play areas, a variety of swings, a sand area, a landscaped seating area and sensory garden and accessible restroom facilities.

Students at Lincoln's Southeast High School raised money, participated in the design process and helped build the playground. Their efforts were chosen by the American Association of School Librarians to be included in a video series tentatively titled "You Know It," that will be distributed nationally. The series will show high school students conducting research and using school library resources and their critical thinking skills to solve real-life problems.

The video series is being produced by Great Plains National, a division of the Nebraska Educational Telecommunications Network; the Nebraska Department of Education; and the General Learning Corporation of Chicago. A video crew is in Lincoln to shoot interviews with the students and a video of children trying out the new equipment. The children are attending SumFun, a camp for children with disabilities offered through the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department. 

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