A bill up for consideration in the state Assembly would push every New Jersey county to build at least one “inclusive” playground that is accessible to children with disabilities.
“I’ve seen the joy on the children’s faces,” said Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, who co-sponsored the bill, “and it’s irreplaceable.”
Inclusive playgrounds aim to accommodate children with all manner of physical and intellectual disabilities.
The proposal would bar any county without an inclusive playground (or one under construction) from receiving Green Acres funds for conservation and recreation projects.
“We’re asking for one park in every county. We know that every county has a child with a disability. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” said Greenwald.
It would also direct the state Department of Community Affairs to publish rules for the design and construction of inclusive playgrounds.
Jake’s Law is a reference to Jake’s Place, an inclusive playground in Cherry Hill, Camden County, created in honor of Jacob Myles Cummings Nasto, who died from complications of heart surgery.
All of the features at Jake’s Place are designed to be accessible to kids with disabilities: ramps instead of stairs; places for kids in wheelchairs to transfer onto the playground; oversized shade structures for kids who cannot be in the sun too long; and a quiet area for children on the autism spectrum.
Jim Cummings, Jake’s grandfather and co-founder of Jake’s Place, said the playground is often the first chance for children with disabilities to play with their peers.
“Within five minutes, they’re just one of the guys. And all the other kids are running back and forth saying, ‘you be Batman, I’ll be Superman,'” said Cummings. “They couldn’t care less that they’re in a wheelchair or have crutches or they’re in a walker — doesn’t make any difference.”
Cummings said the team behind Jake’s Place is planning to build an inclusive playground in Delran, Burlington County.