Bemidji Area Parent and Therapist Duo Look to Make Playgrounds More Accessible
August may be the end of summer for some people, but for others, it is SMA Awareness Month.
SMA, or spinal muscular atrophy, is a genetic disease that can differ in severity depending on the age it is diagnosed. However, for one Bemidji area mother of a 5-year-old with SMA, she aims to make the world of a playground accessible to her daughter and others with similar abilities.
5-year-old Jane was diagnosed with SMA at just two weeks old. She started physical therapy with Tonya Onstad at the age of three months. While working on different abilities, such as maintaining balance, sitting up, changing positions, Jane manages to do what she loves – play.
However, at her age and disability, being on the playground is not something everyone can afford. Due to unstable surfaces and barriers like ledges, kids who have mobility or vision impairments are unable to join their friends on the playground.
Jane’s mom, Megan Comfort, and Onstad started the Play and Learning for All Abilities (P.L.A.A.) initiative. With it, they hope to take one more step to making the world more accessible for kids like Jane.
“I’ve been [in Bemidji] for 10 years,” says Onstad. “I can think of 20 [kids] that will be impacted immediately by rubberized surface.”
P.L.A.A. is currently in the beginning stages of working to transition school playground surfaces from wood chips to a rubberized pavement. Due to the high cost estimate and long process of this project, the group is reaching out to local organizations to discuss possible funding or grant writing opportunities.