Two newly renovated playgrounds don’t adequately accommodate children with disabilities, advocates argue in a complaint to the District this month.
Nonprofit organization University Legal Services contends that Ward 4’s Lafayette Children’s Park and Ward 1’s Kalorama Park fail to meet standards in the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide access to people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices. Public playgrounds in D.C. that were “designed, constructed, or altered” after March 2012 are required to comply with federal requirements enacted in 2010. The District renovated Lafayette in 2014 for $1.5 million, and Kalorama in May of this year for $800,000. Both include two playgrounds for various ages.
“The District’s failure to make these playgrounds accessible to children and their parents who use wheelchairs is a tremendous lost opportunity, especially in light of the costly renovations undertaken at taxpayer expense,” says Kristina Majewski, a staff attorney within University Legal Services.
A July 14 letter for her organization to the District notes that the four playgrounds lack at least one wheelchair-accessible route each and that their surface materials obstruct children with disabilities from moving around play equipment. Moreover, Kalorama’s playgrounds have structures that are too high off the ground for some, it notes.
With respect to Lafayette, University Legal Services says it’s “advocating on behalf of a 9-year-old child who relies on a manual wheelchair and is prevented from entering and navigating through the play area in the park. Since the park is right around the corner from her home, the access barriers have a significant impact on her.” The nonprofit asks D.C. to build accessible pathways, including ramps, and remove barriers to routes and equipment.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Parks and Recreation said in a statement that during the design phase for the parks, community members “overwhelmingly supported” using so-called “engineered wood fiber” for playground surfaces. “This material is a popular choice for use at playgrounds because of its natural look and feel and the fact that it remains cooler to touch in direct sunlight compared to other playground surfacing options,” she continued. “However, DPR will work with the [District’s] Department of General Services and the Office of Disability Rights to review whether that surfacing material might prevent us from achieving our mission of providing equal access to quality recreational services for D.C. residents and visitors.”
In the past, parents have complained about engineered wood fiber, saying it can splinter and “sticks to everything,” as one Adams Morgan mother told City Paper in 2009. (Curious and temperamental children could also put it in their mouths and throw it at others, some said.) Officials explained that the material was intended to prevent injuries when a child falls. D.C. public schools have also faced criticism over not accommodating kids with disabilities.
The complainants have requested a formal response from DPR and DGS by July 30, including potential remedies and a plan to guarantee accessibility.
You can read the full letter here.