- Associated Press - Sunday, August 10, 2014

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - A stranger might think Lizzette Torres is shy, since she speaks so softly it’s sometimes hard to hear her.

Lizzette, 5, is far from shy, but her body - including her vocal cords - is weakened by cerebral palsy. Still, sitting in her wheelchair with pink rims, she tells her mom again and again, “I want to play.”

Playing for Lizzette and her family can seem more like a chore, says her mom, Christian Torres.

Fort Worth’s only all-inclusive playground - built in 1992 with ramps and sensory games for kids with autism, Down syndrome and other special needs - is at Patricia LeBlanc Park in the far southwest corner of the city.

And though the park is set for a $400,000 makeover from the 2014 bond package, and several other parks including Northside are being updated to meet current accessibility requirements, Torres and other special needs advocates say the city isn’t doing enough to help Fort Worth’s disabled people with wider access to better facilities.

To make playgrounds fun for all kids, Torres wants the city to build universal, accessible playgrounds, which have wheelchair ramps going up to all levels, a rubberized surface that makes wheeling a chair easy, and sensory games.

But the space and money needed to build universal playgrounds makes that impossible at all of Fort Worth’s 186 neighborhood playgrounds, said David Creek, assistant director of parks and community services.

For Lizzette, that means the kiddie swings she will outgrow soon are the only part of Northside Park she can easily take part in, and she is often left behind when her 3-year-old sister runs the short distance to the jungle gym.

Even that 15-foot distance is difficult for Lizzette, because it’s tough to get her wheelchair across the gravel in the play area.

“It is just so physical for them and for us, as parents,” Torres told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (http://bit.ly/1ukvwXf). “Your back hurts and she wants to get up; she wants to do it, but she can’t. She gets frustrated.”

All of Fort Worth’s parks met accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act when they were built, Creek aid, but the older playgrounds do not have to be upgraded as new ADA guidelines are established.

The city’s goal is to replace the equipment every 20 years, Creek said, and Northside Park’s playground is set to be replaced this year with money from the 2014 bond program.

The new $145,000 playground will include engineered wood fiber surfacing, which is approved under ADA, to replace the gravel. It will have a transfer station that allows mobility-impaired people to leave their chair to get to the elevated decks, and it will have ground-level activities for those who cannot, Creek said.

“It is going to meet the neighborhood’s needs, and it is going to meet all of the accessibility requirements that are in place,” Creek said. “Ten or 15 years from now, things may change. We don’t know what that is going to be and we don’t have control over that.”

Torres Blanca Welsh, whose 3-year-old daughter also uses a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, says meeting the ADA requirements does not necessarily make a park inclusive to all.

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