“In the disability world, we don’t see color, we see diagnosis. Our normal is not so normal, except to us”. Jamie Mann
Jaime Mann, Founder of The Maddie Mann Foundation for Accessible Play, choked back tears as she spoke to the crowd who gathered before her on December 7th, 2019. It took 5 years to get to this point – the summit to a climb that on some days felt insurmountable. Together with the City of Colonial Heights, fateful volunteers, and Play 4 ALL, division of Cunningham Recreation, a $266,000 play campaign was waged and won.
Jamie went on to explain that “barriers are our norm”. Maddie uses a mobility device and lives with numerous health conditions that make the most common daily tasks difficult. Despite ADA laws and a heightened awareness on accessibility that has evolved over the past decade, playgrounds pose barriers that prevent a percentage of children and adults the opportunity to access and be included. Imagine a childhood with no playgrounds. It’s happening.
The crowd on that chilly yet sunny December day clapped feverishly, tears streaming down faces as Maddie, her father Michael, Jamie, and other family members cut the ribbon to Maddie’s Magnificent Play Park. Located in White Bank Park, this Inclusive Playground was designed using Play Core’s 7 Principles of Inclusive Design ™, a research-based guide to creating spaces that truly ensure not only access but inclusion. Every element is mindfully designed to fulfill the developmental needs of the whole child and the whole family. “For the first time in 20 years of life, she is going to be able to meet at the local play park and not be forced aside or segregated from everyone else,” Jamie shared right before she officially opened the playground marking the end to the arduous climb to raising all the funds needed.
As children gleefully ran to play on the elements, Maddie was able to join them by navigating up to the highest decks thanks to the spongy surfacing and a ramped system. A soldier who had been wounded, with his family by his side, joined from the nearby pavilion. People buzzed around the space, regardless of age and ability. Together. This flagship playground was a beacon of hope for many years to so many people.
None of this would have happened had Maddie’s parents accepted their “normal” and retreated to the fact that their child would not be able to play like the other children. Instead, they saw the barriers that stood before them as a calling to make a change. Play 4 ALL worked closely with the Maddie Mann Foundation and local volunteers to identify philanthropic resources. Tools were created to tell the story and engage donors. Slowly but surely money started to trickle and finally, roll in. It was the philanthropic spirit of community groups, Foundations, corporations and individuals that hoisted the small, yet mighty non-profit to the top of their mountain.
Thank you to the Colonial Heights community and beyond for believing in a mother and father’s vision to change the world one playground at a time.