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A visit to the new Tompkins Square Playground featuring equipment for kids with special needs


Photos and text by Stacie Joy

The revamped Tompkins Square Playgrounds along Avenue B and Seventh Street were unveiled in early October after a year-long upgrade.

Overall, parents have been pleased with the new equipment for their kids, though initially disappointed and angered that some of it already broke down. (According to the Parks Department website, funding for the reconstruction cost $2.57 million.)

However, for those children with special needs, the new inclusive playgrounds, which go beyond what the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates, have been a critically important addition to the neighborhood.

With the permission of his family, I accompanied a 5-year-old East Village resident named Jay as he explored the new equipment. Jay was born legally blind and is deaf without his cochlear implant. He has a rare genetic condition that leaves him with developmental delays and sensory issues.

His mother explains that sensory toys and equipment like those found at the new playground help develop skills that kids need — proprioception, visual, auditory — and assist them in focus and stabilization.

She points out that while there are many playgrounds in the neighborhood, this is the only one that has facilities for kids with sensory processing issues, vision and/or hearing loss, and mobility/balance concerns.

The new playground includes a telescope, outdoor musical instruments like a bell and glockenspiel, fall-protection tiles, hand-bike pedals, a swing with ADA chair, and a shaker play panel — a favorite of Jay’s.

The yellow color of the playground is not just cheerful it can also often be seen by those with low vision. That plus high-contrast differentiation and fall-protection makes it easier and safer to navigate.

[The shaker play panel]

[The telescope]

[Hand-bike petals]

[The Glockenspiel play panel]

HAGS, which designed the equipment, has additional information on inclusive and accessible playgrounds here.

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