Shawnee Mission fourth grader advocates for inclusive playgrounds across KC metro

Olivia Bloomfield

Olivia Bloomfield, a Shawnee Mission fourth grader with congenital muscular dystrophy, spends her free time advocating for inclusive playgrounds within the school district and the Kansas City metro area. Above, Bloomfield in front of the Variety KC Park at Leawood City Park — one of the inclusive playgrounds Bloomfield advocated for.

When Olivia Bloomfield’s family moved to Leawood from Chicago eight-and-a-half years ago, they had to drive all the way out to near Kansas City International Airport in order to enjoy an inclusive playground.

Born with congenital muscular dystrophy, Olivia couldn’t use the playgrounds in parks closer to home, including Brook Beatty Park — which is down the street from her family’s home — because the power wheelchair she needs can be damaged by mulch.

Olivia and her mom, Sara, quickly realized this was a pattern and decided to do something about it.

Two new all-inclusive parks

With a lack of viable options nearby, the mother-daughter duo jumped at the opportunity to work with local nonprofit Variety KC to advocate for a new inclusive playground at Leawood City Park, 10601 Lee Boulevard, just south I-435.

“It’s awesome that people are making it all-inclusive, not just for wheelchairs and walkers, but for anyone with disabilities,” Olivia said. “Everybody deserves a chance to play.”

The Bloomfields also worked closely with Corinth Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District to bring an inclusive playground to the school — which, when Bloomfield was in kindergarten there, used mats to cover mulch so she could be near her friends during recess.

Sara and Olivia see their push for inclusivity rubbing off on others.

Olivia’s class at Corinth is working on a separate project to propose a new exhibit for Science City at Kansas City’s Union Station, and Sara said one of Olivia’s classmate said they “need to make sure that everything we think about is accessible.”

Sara said she hopes their recents efforts make an impact on other children.

“This started for me as kind of a selfish endeavor, I wanted my kid to have a place to go and feel included — and she’s turned it into so much more,” Sara said. “I see so much joy and pride in her, and knowing that she can make a change and telling everybody what’s on her mind and they value that and they care, it’s been amazing.”

‘We want to belong’

Deborah Wiebrecht, Variety KC’s chief inclusion officer, said there are now 12 Variety KC inclusive playgrounds in the metro area.

Wiebrecht said she’s proud to have watched Olivia grow from a toddler to a young child who is now able to advocate for herself and other children.

“She’s just the smartest, brightest young woman and I learn from her daily,” Wiebrecht said. “It’s amazing how children can use their voice to make change, and it makes me really proud and excited for the future that these children are stepping up to say, ‘We want to belong.’”

Wiebrecht said those interested in volunteering can visit Variety KC’s website, which also includes a number of resources for cities and organizations about creating inclusive places.

List of inclusive playgrounds in KC area

According to Variety KC, all-inclusive playgrounds feature a number of elements that allow all children to feel included during play.

That includes surfacing that allows for wheelchairs, disabled or reserved parking nearby and communication boards and interactive features like musical instruments for non-verbal children.

Here is Variety KC’s list of all-inclusive playgrounds in the metro:

  • McCoy Park (Independence, Mo.)
  • College Boulevard Activity Center (Olathe)
  • Tiffany Hills playground (Kansas City, Mo.)
  • Leawood City Park (Leawood)
  • Wonderscope Children’s Museum (Kansas City, Mo.)
  • Kansas City Zoo playground
  • Wyandotte County Park (Bonner Springs)
  • T.B. Hannah Station playground (Raymore, Mo.)
  • Children’s Mercy Hospital playground (Kansas City, Mo.)