Park designed for people of all abilities popular among families

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The Minneapolis park system opened its first universally accessible play area at the Wabun picnic area in Minnehaha Falls Regional Park a few weeks ago – and the response so far has been positive.

The play area, which is designed for people of all abilities, includes multiple ramps, more accessible surfacing and multiple paths for people to access the playground. The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) says the playground's design fosters interaction and allows all children to be included.

Peggy Halvorson was the catalyst for the park after seeing a universally accessible playground in North Carolina. She established, and became chair of, Falls 4 All, a volunteer committee that worked to build the playground. The committee worked with the MPRB and People for Parks to raise $456,000 towards construction of the park, according to the Metropolitan Council.

“I love it,” Halvorson said after the July 31 grand opening. “I see kids in wheelchairs, kids with sensory issues, all playing together [and think] ‘OK, this was four years of hard work and it was worth it.’”

The park isn't just for kids who may have special needs – it's also for parents. Geri Gavanda Mauck, a mother of two children with special needs, told the Met Council her husband saw a woman in a wheelchair roll up to the swing with her child on her lap so should could put her child in the swing.

"From a parental perspective, you think the playground was built for children with special needs. ... [But] sometimes you don't think that parents who are disabled miss out on those kinds of experiences with their children."

Halvorson says she's heard from others who have been to the park and are pleased with the playground.

FOX 9's M.A. Rosko visited the parkand got the same reaction from kids and their parents:

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For a park to be universally accessible, the play area must have at least 70 percent of its play features designed to be fully accessible for people with all abilities, which exceeds Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for parks, MPRB notes.

Minnesota Zoo's camp for kids with autism

Other organizations are also working to make summer activities more inclusive for kids and teenagers with special needs.

Every summer, thousands of children and teenagers attend camp at the Minnesota Zoo. But this year, the zoo partnered with the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) to offer four summer camp opportunities for kids with autism, according to the zoo's website.

Kids and teenagers who attended the camp got a behind-the-scenes look at the zoo. Not only did they learn about the animals and what it takes to care for them, but they also got to practice their social skills in a public setting.

"This gives them a confined opportunity to practice social skills,"Dawn Brasch, education and training specialist for the Autism Society of Minnesota, told the Pioneer Press. "A lot of these kids come to the zoo, but they are not able to be independent."

In various posts on AuSM's Facebook page, the organization describes what the campers worked on while at the zoo, including full body listening and being positive while trying new things.

The last camp session of the summer ended last week, and officials are calling the endeavor a success. The camp was so popular, it drew students from across the state and as far away as Sweden, Brasch told the newspaper.

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