ST. LOUIS, Missouri – Sixty-one million adults live with a disability in the United States.
More than three million children are disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it mandatory to make public places more accessible for everyone.
But if you live with a disability, you know that’s not always the case. A mother and son found that out the hard way.
But instead of letting it stop them, it motivated them to change things for millions of children across the country.
“Zachary was born with a really rare disability. As he grew, his differences became more and more profound. Absolutely. Left him on the sidelines of a lot of things,” Natalie Mackay, Unlimited Play executive director said.
Her son was sidelined even on the playground.
“I put him in a little infant swing with a belt and his body slumped over. And it’s the day that broke me that I thought even something as simple as playing on a playground was taken from my child. Unless you live a life with a child with a disability, you don’t know that playgrounds are not inclusive,” Mackay said.
That’s when she decided to build all-inclusive playgrounds.
Four years and $500,000 later, Zachary’s playground opened.
“Something as simple as including half panels. So, this allows my son, Zachary to get underneath. The roller slide allows kids with cochlear implants to go down and not worry that the static electricity will discharge or harm their implant. This flesh-mounted merry-go-round is a piece that allows anybody with a mobility device to experience what it’s like to be on a merry-go-round,” Mackay said.
Unlimited Play has helped open 82 playgrounds in 19 states each named after a child in their own community. Lucas Fritsche spearheaded his own Unlimited Play playground. Lucas was born with Noonan Syndrome.
“After we started going to inclusive playgrounds, he was able to just play. I didn’t have to worry about him,” said Lucas’ mom Jennifer Fritsche.
Lucas and his mom were able to raise half a million dollars and build Lucas and his friends a backyard adventure playground.
“It was it actually just showed me that I could actually do some, do something,” Lucas said.
Showing proof that even playgrounds can be life-changing.
“I see parents, gosh. A lot of times there are tears in their eyes as they watch their children play for the first time, and I know they feel like they belong, right? A place where somebody thought of their child and cared enough to say, we want you to be included. That’s powerful,” Mackay said.
More than 2.5 million children and parents visit an Unlimited Play playground each year.
Mackay says Unlimited Play gets calls every single day from families or communities wanting to build an Unlimited Play playground.
They help teach each community what works and what doesn’t and how to raise the funds to start building their own universally inclusive playground.
Sorrowfully, Zachary passed away in 2021, but his name and Unlimited Play will continue to change lives for decades to come.