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Letter: Inclusive playground is a welcome addition

I am writing this as a mother, nurse and resident of Bemidji. The Paul Bunyan Inclusive Playground was brought to my attention by members of the committee working on the fundraising that knew me and my 5-year-old daughter, Maddie.

Maddie has cerebral palsy and is the middle of my three children. She is non-verbal, cognitively delayed, and walks with the assistance of a walker, or is pushed in a wheelchair. I consider our family fortunate to live in Bemidji. Her physical therapy is in Bemidji, her physicians are supportive, and there are many other children in the area that suffer from physical and cognitive disabilities as well. However, upon one of our first trips to the playground, I realized that only two of my three children were going to be able to play. The surface areas at our playgrounds are not conducive to her walker or wheelchair, and there are many steps to reach playground equipment.

The purpose of this letter is not to gain pity for Maddie and the many other children in this area with disabilities; it is to bring awareness of an issue that unless faced with it, may go unnoticed. Unless you are a parent or grandparent holding the child left out, you may not notice the challenges these children face. Unfortunately, when others are accessing equipment, those with special needs are forced to sit out. While they are sitting out, able bodied children are also missing out the opportunity to gain understanding, appreciation, and acceptance for others that may be different from themselves.

The city of Bemidji is surrounded by many smaller communities that use Bemidji as the hub for all their greater needs such as shopping, entertainment, and healthcare. Parents of special needs children are willing to travel in order to have a place for their children to be included in play. Once they are here these parents will not only frequent the play area, but the local businesses in the surrounding downtown area.

The community of Bemidji is growing and becoming increasingly diverse. It would be wonderful if we were known not only for our many lakes, recreation, and healthcare, but for our acceptance and consideration of all community members, even our smallest.

This playground will mean so much too many.

Elizabeth (and Maddie) Engum