Prairie Village resident pushes city to better integrate accessible play equipment into neighborhood parks

Franklin Park in Prairie Village is set to get $120,000 of new playground equipment in the coming months.

The Prairie Village governing body this week denied a resident’s appeal of the city’s decision to invest heavily in accessible playground equipment at Franklin and Harmon Parks, a move he said denied kids with disabilities the chance to be incorporated in play at other neighborhood parks.

James Olenick, the father of a now-adult son with disabilities, challenged the public works department’s planned investment of nearly $120,000 in new play equipment at Franklin Park in the coming months. The city also has tentative plans to invest around $575,000 in a complete revamp of the playground at Harmon Park that would feature a large amount of play equipment accessible to kids with disabilities, though that new inclusive play area has yet to be designed.

A rendering of the new playground design set to be installed at Franklin Park next year.

While Olenick conceded that the equipment the city had planned for Franklin Park met the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said that the concentration of accessible equipment in a couple of parks put families who didn’t live near those parks at a disadvantage. Transporting children with disabilities is often more time consuming and labor intensive than transporting able-bodied children, he noted. Instead of creating destination playgrounds for families with kids with disabilities, the city should be working to incorporated accessible equipment at every neighborhood park so families don’t have to travel.

“It is not about whether the equipment purchased by the city is accessible,” Olenick said. “It is about a burden being applied to the families with a challenged child, and the integration of a family with a challenged child into the neighborhood culture. It is about an integrated future.

He also cited the Shawnee Mission School District’s work to incorporate kids with disabilities into every facet of school culture.

“Bottom line: spread the spending around to the neighborhoods, making these playsets a neighborhood hub, bringing children of all abilities together,” Olenick said. “Follow the lead of the school district to include and integrate all children in all activities.”

Members of the council acknowledged Olenick’s sentiments, but pushed back on his assertion that the city’s plans represented a violation of the ADA. Councilmember Ron Nelson noted that not every park in the city had the same amenities, and that not every able bodied kid who wanted to play basketball or soccer, for example, would have access to courts or fields at their neighborhood park.

Olenick responded that his “wish is that the ADA equipment challenge the children in their neighborhoods, not in a central location.”

In addition to the all inclusive playground that opened at Leawood Park in 2017, the area is slated to get another destination playground with man inclusive elements as part of Johnson County Park and Recreation Department’s plans for the new Meadowbrook Park.