Imagine being a kid stuck in a wheelchair while your friends and siblings have a blast on the playground.
Until Nov. 7, children with different abilities had no place in Bluffton to play on equipment alongside their friends who could climb and run and swing.
That was the day the Town of Bluffton made two parks a little more inclusive with the addition of adaptive full-body swings for children with special needs. Town officials hope to add more specialized playground equipment to parks around town.
"Everyone needs to be able to have access to play with their friends," Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said. "I just think it will make our kids so happy and our parents even happier."
Through a partnership with a nonprofit organization called 50 Red Swings, the Town was able to install two swings - one at DuBois Park and one at Oscar Frazier Park. They were both donated.
The mission of 50 Red Swings, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., is to make playgrounds across the country more accessible to children with special needs. The group seeks to install their adaptive swings in every state of the U.S.
Bluffton is the first municipality in South Carolina to partner with the organization.
The red swings, which are called JennSwings, feature comfortable seats, a body-embracing design and adjustable safety harnesses. According to the 50 Red Swings website, the swings can be used by toddlers up to school-aged children, with a weight limit of 125 pounds. The swings meet the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines for playground equipment in public recreation areas.
Kelly Scheurell of Okatie was thrilled to hear about the new swings. Her 8-year-old son, Benjamin, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, so this could be a gamechanger for him.
"It is really exciting that there is somewhere I can take all of my kids to play together without worrying about how I can make sure he's included," Scheurell said.
While JennSwings are designed for children with mobility disorders, they can also be therapeutic for kids on the autism spectrum.
"Children on the autism spectrum can present with low muscle tone," said Julianne Sullivan, a certified occupational therapy assistant with Lowcountry Therapy Center. "The JennSwing allows a child to enjoy the linear vestibular input without needing the core strength to support his or her body. Also, the JennSwings have straps, which enhances the safety of swinging for an impulsive child."
Across the bridges from Bluffton, Hilton Head Island is about to get its own adaptive and accessible playground, complete with zip line. Located at Island Recreation Center on Wilborn Road, Gregory's Playground is nearly complete and expected to open soon.
Gregory's Playground was funded in part by efforts of the Kiwanis Club of Hilton Head and the Palmetto Kiwanis Club, as well as the Children's Relief Fund. The park is named in memory of Gregory Fotia, the son of CRF founders Rose and Frank Fotia.
Gregory was born with multiple disabilities that confined him to a wheelchair his entire life. He died at age 12 in 2000.
The Town of Bluffton has discussed installing an approximately $200,000 inclusive playground at its Buckwalter Place Park as well as one at the future park at New Riverside.
Lowcountry Therapy Center founder Jessi Dolnik said she would love to help the Town of Bluffton with their tentative plans for more inclusive playgrounds.
"Lowcountry Therapy is very proud to be working with Lisa Sulka, Marc Orlando and our community to provide a truly fully accessible playground for our families in Bluffton," Dolnik said.
For more information on 50 Red Swings, visit www.50redswings.org.
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.