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Volunteers needed to build kids' playground

Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation is seeking about 2,000 volunteers to help build a playground without barriers.

Race Playce, as the planned park is called, is envisioned as a setting where children can play together regardless of their physical abilities.-

“It takes away a lot of the stigma for a child with disabilities,” said Lori Saylor, volunteer coordinator for Park and Recreation's Therapeutic Recreation Department.

The playground will be equipped with a smooth surface, ramps and other design features that improve accessibility.

Construction is scheduled for Sept. 29 through Oct. 5, with three shifts planned each day. Skilled and unskilled volunteers are needed.

About 10percent of the population is living with some type of disability, so accessible community resources just make sense, said Karla Gray, division manager for Therapeutic Recreation.

Park and Recreation playgrounds comply with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But compliant facilities still typically fall short of being barrier-free.

For example, playgrounds often have a soft surface such as sand or mulch beneath swing sets. Those are difficult to navigate for a person who uses a wheelchair or a walker.

One big difference is that the playground will have no stairs. Ramps are planned instead.

“Accessible playgrounds aren't meant to point out differences, but sometimes they do,” Gray said. “If you have a single point of access and everybody uses the same point of access, it gives a level playing field for everybody.”

Park and Recreation's staff borrowed the idea for a playground without barriers from Cincinnati, Saylor said. Mecklenburg County is working with a company that has helped create barrier-free playgrounds there.

Skilled volunteers – those comfortable using a circular saw – will work with others to build playground components at Nevin Park.

About half the 4,000 volunteers needed during construction have signed on to help. Meals and water will be provided. A supervised play area is planned for volunteers with children ages 6 to 12.

Park and Recreation brought together about 170 children with varied abilities to offer ideas for Race Playce. They helped planners see the playground from a child's perspective, Gray said.

Contrasting colors are incorporated to aid vision-impaired visitors. Basic sign language is planned on some signage. Quiet places are planned within play structures for children with autism.

“We're looking at changing mindsets and changing how people approach play,” Gray said.