Soon after her birth, Cody Goldberg’s daughter Harper was diagnosed with a condition that would require her to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. As Harper grew, Goldberg soon realized that a lot of everyday things alienate children with disabilities, keeping them from experiencing the same things as their families and friends. But what really stood out to Goldberg — is playgrounds — he says in a talk at TEDxPortland.
Traveling to local playgrounds with Harper made him realize that a lot of “accessible” playgrounds in the United States are not very accessible, he says in his talk. Many playground designs — despite being labeled accessible — require children with mobility issues to leave their wheelchairs behind and navigate complex play structures with only the assistance of their upper-body strength and a couple of handrails, he says.
This clashed with one of Goldberg’s fundamental beliefs: that play is a right that should be open to all children — despite mobility ability or impairment. This is why he created Harper’s Playground, an accessible-to-all playground developed by a group of Portlanders dedicated to opening up play to all. The playground is designed to allow for a broad scope of abilities and addresses challenges that typical playground equipment present to those with atypical mobility.
Swings have carefully-constructed and comfortable restraints, Goldberg shows; merry-go-rounds offer slanted backs to support children out of wheelchairs; steps are avoided and ramps are raised at child-manageable angles. Designers made a concentrated effort to make the playground blend into the natural world as well, in an effort to give children with mobility issues the opportunity to do something that most people take for granted: explore nature, Goldberg says. Water, mud, sand and rocks are all incorporated into the playground’s design, while — unlike the actual forest — all “floor” surfaces are wheelchair-accessible, breaking away from the typical not-so-lovely accessible aesthetic: sprawling, eye-sore blocks of concrete.
The playground even has a mascot — the sea turtle — an animal that was chosen because, as Goldberg says in his talk, “The sea turtle, on land, really struggles to get around; it’s very difficult for a sea turtle to maneuver. However, in the water, the sea turtle soars like an eagle, and for us that’s the metaphor for the space we created.”
What’s really meaningful to Goldberg is that the playground has created a space that Portland, its inhabitants, and so many others have been lacking and needing, he says, and since its launch, the change it has made in children’s (and families’) lives has become more and more apparent. The playground has even inspired a similar project a state away — Owen’s Playground in Washington– and, in time, the right to play will be opened to more and more, he hopes.
Watch Goldberg’s whole talk below: