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Special-needs playground opens on Long Island

8. Handicap-accessible playground opens A $1.25 million playground,

8. Handicap-accessible playground opens

A $1.25 million playground, Let All the Children Play, opened in Eisenhower Park. The two-acre playground has traditional equipment, such as merry-go-rounds and swings, modified to accommodate children with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Special-needs playground opens on Long Island

Pictured: Danielle Marino, left, and Grace Darcy, in harness swings. (April 23, 2012) Credit: Linda Rosier

Grace Darcy claps her hands gleefully as the merry-go-round at the new Let All the Children Play playground in Eisenhower Park spins and spins. It's the first time the Merrick 9-year-old has been on one -- and she can ride this one only because it's adapted to accommodate wheelchairs.

Grace would never be safe on a regular playground merry-go-round. "She wouldn't know to hold on," says Grace's mom, Lorraine. "She wouldn't know not to let go while it's moving." But on this ride, Grace's wheelchair is locked in place with a bar.

The ride took Grace's dad, Joe, by surprise. "I've never seen anything like this," he says. The merry-go-round is part of a $1.25-million, two-acre playground opening this week with traditional equipment modified to accommodate children with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities. It was funded by county and private money.

On Saturday the playground hosts the inaugural "Welcome Family Fun Day." In addition to open play, the festivities will include face painting, arts and crafts, soccer clinics and unicycle lessons.

The playground can be used by typical children, too. The merry-go-round includes benches for kids who don't use a wheelchair.

Here are some other ways the playground caters to kids with special needs:

Swings have harnesses

A number of the swings have seats equipped with amusement park-like harnesses that go over the head and clip between the legs to hold kids in place. "To me, the swings are key," Lorraine Darcy says. Grace won't fit into a toddler-style "bucket" swing; she's too big. And she can't hold herself upright on a regular swing. On the adapted swing, Mom can push her, or she can swing on her own.

In addition, the paths upward on the play equipment are wide enough for a wheelchair.

Slides aren't too steep

Celine Smith, 2, zips down a slide in the toddler area, and her dad, Bobby, points out that the gentle slope ensures kids who don't have great balance won't topple off on the ride down. The playground seesaws also are adapted for kids who lack balance: One side has a back they can lean against. And the floors! "I love the foamy surface," says Bobby Smith. "It's safe, and there's no need to remove sand from the shoes or the diapers or the socks or the hair."

The colors are vivid and the shapes stimulating, says Theresa Smith. "She just goes from one thing to another," she says of Celine, who has Down syndrome. "I've never seen her do this before."

Shane Stepinski, 10, of West Hempstead, who also has Down syndrome, is running from swing set to play equipment as well. "It's phenomenal the way they have everything set up, the choices," says his mom, Valerie Lynn.

DETAILS

WHAT Grand opening of Let All the Children Play handicap-accessible playground

WHEN/WHERE 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at field 4, Eisenhower Park, Hempstead Turnpike and Merrick Avenue, East Meadow

INFO Free; 516-569-0648; latcp.org

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