May Mobility Awareness Month: On the path to making Atlanta’s parks accessible to all

The Friends of Sara J. González Memorial Park group is committed to making the park a welcoming space for everyone. (Photo by Park Pride.)

Originally published on SaportaReport.

By Michael Halicki, Park Pride’s Executive Director and Isabel González Whitaker, Founder of Sara J. González Memorial Park

Great parks aren’t “great” if they aren’t welcoming and accessible. Parks shouldn’t discriminate on any count and certainly not by design. As a park founder and at Park Pride, where we work to make sure parks reach their full potential, we believe that everyone should have access to a quality park, regardless of race, age, income, zip code — or ability. Today we will focus on ability because how you get there and what you can do once you get there matters when it comes to parks.

May is National Mobility Awareness Month. This gives us a chance to reflect on opportunities to make Atlanta’s parks accessible for all. In an inclusive space, every element won’t necessarily be accessible to everyone, but the combination of experiences should add to something equally great for each visitor.

Earlier this year, thanks to an outside donation, Park Pride awarded a grant to increase accessibility at the Sara J. González (SJG) Memorial Park. SJG Park is a small, triangular greenspace nestled in Atlanta’s Westside. The park was named in memory of González, a changemaker in Atlanta who advocated at all levels for diversity and inclusion, and the park is Georgia’s first memorial to a Latinx individual and is the first park named after one.

The Friends of SJG Park group is dedicated to making the park a welcoming space for all visitors. The park currently features a playscape for all abilities, an outdoor learning space, a community learning garden and a youth soccer field.

Now with this new funding from Park Pride, SJG Park is set to receive a slate of important accessibility improvements, including:

  • A designated handicapped parking spot with access to the park
  • Paved paths throughout the park that access the soccer fields, the Latin ethnobotanical learning garden and all existing sidewalks around the park
  • Inclusive fitness stations with accessible surfacing (artificial turf)
  • Music station to engage all park users

These improvements, which will debut later this summer, are made possible through a multi-year commitment to Park Pride from the Wheels in the Woods Foundation, a national organization that promotes and supports wheelchair accessibility in nature. SJG Park is the first urban greenspace in the country to benefit from this funding.

The Foundation was formed by Donald and Elisabeth Chiboucas, who saw how inaccessible outdoor spaces can be for visitors using wheelchairs.

“We were taking Don’s parents on a trail around a lake and his mom was in a wheelchair. We lost control of it and narrowly escaped an accident,” said Elisabeth Chiboucas, President of the Wheels in the Woods Foundation. “Don saw a need and decided to create Wheels in the Woods to build handicap-accessible paths to give people more and better ways to get outdoors.”

Park Pride is proud to be a resource for crucial efforts like these to ensure that everyone has a welcoming greenspace to gather, play or just relax outdoors. There are accessibility efforts happening in parks around the country, including new ranger-led programs at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that gives visitors with disabilities the opportunity to go kayaking, mountain biking, explore trails and camp overnight.

“For anyone with a disability, [parks and urban greenspaces] are so important to have access to play with their children on the playground and, like everyone else, to be included in all aspects of the space,” said Kelly Edens, Recreation Therapy Manager for the Shepard Center.

The Center, the largest specialized care hospital of its kind in the U.S., is less than five miles from SJG Park and Edens hopes to use it as a training and rehabilitation space for the hundreds of families they work with from Georgia and around the country.

Edens added: “There are many different components that make a space accessible, diverse and accepting for all. This allows people to build their confidence, have a sense of accomplishment and [enjoy] new opportunities.”

This project is part of an ongoing effort at Park Pride through the Parks for All Campaign to make local parks accessible for all Atlantans.

“Just having a park near your home isn’t enough if you don’t feel welcome or are unable to use the space,” said Kayla Altland, Park Pride’s Director of Grantmaking. “That’s why our team is intentional about helping communities create inclusive, safe and welcoming parks for everyone who visits.”

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