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All-abilities playground: An inclusive, first-of-its-kind place to play in El Dorado County



EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. —


Austin Reininger, a student at Jackson Elementary School in El Dorado Hills, experienced a first on Wednesday.


For the first time, he played with his friends and classmates on the playground at school. It’s a milestone filled with meaning since Austin has a disability that requires him to use a wheelchair to move around. Most playgrounds aren’t wheelchair friendly, but now his school’s playground is.


Jackson Elementary celebrated the grand opening of one of the region's first playgrounds that’s accessible to everyone – complete with a ceremonial ribbon cutting.


“For the past few years, our children in wheelchairs have sat on the sidewalk and watched the other children play because it was a bark-based playground,” explained the school’s principal Michele Williamson. “We have seven students in wheelchairs here at Jackson, so before, they would come down to the play structure, but really couldn’t interact with the children.”


Williamson made it her mission to change that – enlisting help from the community to raise funds and get an "all-abilities playground" built at the school where she’s served as principal for the past 23 years. She said she considers the playground’s construction one of her proudest accomplishments.


Rescue Union School District, El Dorado County Office of Education, the Jackson Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, the El Dorado Hills Community Services District, the Latrobe Foundation, and the nonprofit organization Walk With Austin, which was founded by Austin’s parents, worked in collaboration to generate the over $600,000 needed to turn the idea of an all- abilities playground into a reality, the project supporters said.


“It’s foam-based,” Williamson said when asked by KCRA 3 what makes the playground different from most school and park playgrounds. “It doesn’t have the bark, so wheelchairs can go right down the ramp.”


The ground’s smooth surface along with the various pieces of play equipment make it accessible to all. There are tandem swings with bucket seats and safety harnesses, a specially- designed zip line and places to play that are no longer out of reach.


“They can actually go up on the play structure in their wheelchairs,” Williamson said. “There's different activities they can do on the play structure and be a part of, with all the children together.”


Austin’s parents, attending the ceremonial ribbon cutting at the school’s new playground, discussed the importance of having a facility like this for Austin, his sister, and their other elementary school-age kids to enjoy.


“Everyone is having fun on this playground,” said Holly Reininger, executive director for the Walk With Austin organization, named in honor of her son. “It is not specifically for kids with disabilities. It is to includekids with disabilities and it’s beautiful.”


An inclusive space, the project's supporters hope others will see and work to create in their communities.


“I hope it’s a model for other schools,” Williamson said.



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