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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Region works to make recreation more accessible

    First-Grader Adam Swietek points out he wants to slide to Speech Language Pathologist Megan Kasparek using a new communication sign as they play on the playground at the Mystic River Magnet School on Monday, June 12, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Special Education Teacher Meghan Dodge, left, 1st grader Aurora Evans-Vincent and her Paraeducator Juliana Carroll indicate she wants to play hide and seek while using a communication sign on the playground at the Mystic River Magnet School on Monday, June 12, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    The playground at Mystic River Magnet School, an elementary school in Groton, was filled on a recent June morning with the sounds of kids playing.

    Students went up to a large communication board, which had squares with pictures and words signaling different types of actions. They pointed to squares — including “I,” “want,” and “slide,” and “I” “want,” and “hide” — to show they wanted to go down the slide or play a game of hide and seek.

    The Autism Program and Speech Language Pathologist team at Mystic River Magnet School, which is home to an autism program and an integrated preschool, was awarded an about $3,900 grant from the Groton Education Foundation for three communication boards at the playground.

    Megan Kasparek, a speech-language pathologist, said students can use the boards by either pointing to the pictures or by pointing to the pictures and talking at the same time.

    “It’s really just a way that they can have more access to communication outside,” Kasparek said.

    Amanda Iwuc, a speech-language pathologist, said the signs are a great way for students with special needs and their peers to play together in the playground.

    Elizabeth Hutchins, a speech-language pathologist at Mystic River Magnet School, said communication boards like these are becoming more common out in the community.

    “I think we could definitely improve upon having more available to people, but I think that we’re making the right steps to providing these kind of opportunities,” she said.

    The communication boards are among the ways school districts and municipalities in the region are working to expand access to recreational facilities.

    Groton Parks and Recreation Director Mark Berry said the Tercentennial playground at Poquonnock Plains Park, built in 2005, “is a universally accessible playground that promotes opportunities for people of varying abilities to enjoy the playground.”

    The town has completed projects, from adding a ramp to the Shennecossett Golf Course to adding accessible picnic tables at Sutton Park.

    Berry said Groton has a long tradition of commitment to accessibility, and the parks and recreation department continues to work to expand access to recreational facilities as part of its commitment to social equity.

    Groton also runs Special Olympics Groton, a competitive program with 13 sports a year for ages 8 and up, said Eileen Cicchese, program supervisor with Groton Parks and Recreation and local coordinator for Special Olympics Groton.

    Cicchese said all of Groton’s parks and recreation programs are inclusive and open to anyone interested in participating. The department also offers adaptive programs, including adaptive cooking, a teen social program for teens with disabilities, and adaptive karate. She said the adaptive programs offer an opportunity for people to try something new and learn skills and then they can move into one of Groton’s inclusive programs.

    Mary Hill, parks and recreation director for the City of Groton, said Eastern Point Beach is accessible for people with disabilities, and the Groton Lodge of Elks several years ago donated a beach access mat. The mat serves as a walkway that sits on top of the sand and enables someone in a wheelchair or families with young kids with wagons to get out on the beach.

    The city has received a grant to build a boat dock with an accessible kayak launch at Thames View Park.

    Pete Bushway, Montville’s recreation director, said Montville is working to make sure everybody has the opportunity to enjoy the facilities the community has.

    He said in a phone interview in early June that the town was just about to complete an accessible playground at the community center.

    He said there is an accessible playground at Mohegan Elementary School, but it does not allow for access to the general public during school hours. The town wanted to have an accessible playground available for the general public during school hours, for example for kids who are homeschooled or are not yet school aged.

    East Lyme Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Lokken said East Lyme offers mats and beach wheelchairs at the beach to allow people with mobility issues to access the sand and water.

    The Niantic Bay Boardwalk, including the walkway, parking area and restrooms, are accessible. Plans are also in the works for accessible trails at Darrow Pond.

    The Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut, East Lyme Public Schools, and East Lyme Parks and Recreation partnered to create the Miracle League Field at Flanders School, which was designed for accessibility.

    “Offering facilities, programs and services that are accessible is important because each person deserves opportunity to benefit from these public services,” Lokken said.

    Lokken said the American Disabilities Act outlines what towns have to do. But he said there are good reasons to exceed the requirements to create a more livable community.

    “We want to have a better community than meeting the minimum,” he said. “We want to have a place that works out better for everyone.”

    He added that when communities make facilities more accessible, other members of the public who don’t necessarily “need” those improvements benefit. For example, an accessible mat at the beach can also help a family with small children move a stroller or beach buggy to their spot more easily.

    Kathy Buck, senior vice president of program services for Easterseals Capital Region and Eastern Connecticut, Inc. an organization that offers services to people with disabilities, said there has been some movement to make spaces more accessible, such as mats at beaches, but more could be done for accessibility. For example, some people need to use changing tables and she hasn’t come across any restrooms in the public that have them for adults.

    She said accessible recreational facilities are important because individuals with disabilities want to be included and be safe in their community, just like everyone else, and socialize in places among the general public.

    “It’s really important for them to feel independent, to feel like they’re part of their community,” Buck said. “It improves their quality of life, and they’re being active.”


    Editor’s Note: This version corrects the source of the grant for the communication boards.

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