Many of the children playing on the structures use wheelchairs or other mobility aids to access the park’s play areas. One child is 4-year-old Michael who has Down syndrome and wears ankle braces.
“He’s not as steady on his feet at the other playgrounds that have the mulch or gravel,” said Chelsey Brown, Michael’s mom. “But on this one, he’s running all over it. The other day, I had someone commenting on how confident he was going up and coming down the tall slide. He was just fearless out here compared to other parks.”
In addition to being Pearland’s first all-inclusive park, the playground also has the distinction of being the first all- inclusive park in the entirety of Brazoria County, creating an accessible playground for Pearland families to visit who would otherwise have to travel to other cities. One such family is Carly Peterson, who said she takes her son Jericho to Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio every summer.
Named after state Rep. Ed Thompson, who secured a $750,000 grant for the project from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Ed Thompson Inclusive Park comes about as a result of a collaboration between the city of Pearland, Forever Parks Foundation and Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration.
Forever Parks Foundation of Pearland is a nonprofit organization with a mission to partner with the city to establish premier parks, facilities and programs in Pearland. Forever Parks Foundation kicked off official fundraising for the park in May 2020 and raised $1.36 million for the project.
When envisioning the design of the park, Forever Parks hosted a steering committee and leaned on local experts such as educators, nurses and physical therapists to ensure the park would meet the needs of children and adults with disabilities, said Nikki Kamkar, Forever Parks Foundation board member.
Located near the accessible sports area Miracle Field, the park features play structures such as the We-Go Swing, which has wheelchair access, and the We-Go Round, a merry-go-round that has level ground access. The park also features a music play element with a xylophone and chimes, designed specifically for children with developmental needs.
“A lot of times people will associate playgrounds like this with mobility challenges,” Forever Parks Foundation President Jeff Webb said. “But the reality is that this is designed for any kind of sensory or developmental need.”
The foundation is already thinking about making other existing parks in Pearland more accessible, Webb said. Budget for parks and recreation improvement is part of the $183.3 million bond package voters will consider May 6, which Webb said he supports.
“We’re going to think about the next phase in Independence Park. We’ve already had conversations about, is it an adaptive or inclusive splash pad, or do we build onto the existing play structure there,” Webb said.