“Families have told us they need and want a park that has activities and equipment for individuals both with and without intellectual and physical abilities – a park that offers therapeutic value, is safe, and can be enjoyed by people of all ages,” said John Walker, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond ARC, an organization providing services for persons with special needs for decades. “They want their loved ones to exercise, play and learn alongside everyone else.”
The ARCpark was designed based on feedback from ARC’s clients, their families and caregivers, occupational and physical therapists and special educators, and current research regarding the needs of people with developmental disabilities. Its diversity of components include a family restroom with an adult-sized changing table; charging stations for electric wheelchairs; a tree house with a ramp to the top wide enough for walkers and other adaptive equipment; play and fitness equipment for persons of all ages and abilities, including a glider that can accommodate a wheelchair; and safety surfaces throughout the park.
One of the ARCpark’s most innovative features is a custom-built sensory wall with a kaleidoscope panel, fossil and animal reliefs, and talk tubes to foster touch, hearing, vision, and fine motor skills – particularly beneficial for people with autism and sensory processing disorders. Some components were selected because they are stimulating, while others because they are calming, educational, or therapeutic.
The ARCpark is also landscaped to provide plenty of shade, with misting stations and shade structures throughout to help visitors keep cool, especially important for those with heat sensitivities.
“We no longer want families with loved ones who have physical or intellectual disabilities to remain on the sidelines when it comes to having fun and getting fit,’’ Walker added. “The ARCpark will fully accommodate people who have disabilities and will welcome those who do not. Everyone–young or old, able or disabled– will have the opportunity to play and exercise alongside one another. The ARCpark has something for everybody.””
The landmark all-inclusive park is being funded by a combination of private donations and community grants and hailed for its innovative approach.
“I have not found one park in or around Richmond like the one (ARC) is planning,” said Vicki Beatty, whose son Davis was born with a genetic anomaly in 1995. Explaining it has been a “journey of perseverance to overcome barriers,” Beatty says these can sometimes be physical, and “other times, they have to do with others’ perceptions and attitudes. Either way, Davis misses out when he is not given the chance to naturally interact with others on a level playing field.”
For families like the Beattys, the ARCpark will be a welcome destination. “The team here at ARC has developed a park with an incredible attention to detail for families, whether or not one of their members has a disability,” said Walker.
About the Greater Richmond ARC
The Greater Richmond ARC provides a variety of innovative services and programs designed to meet the needs of clients and their families. Services span the lifecycle and assist people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities to live happy, successful and meaningful lives. Core areas of service include: Infant & Child Development Services; After School & Day Support Services; ARC Employment Services; and Camp Baker Services, a full service respite and camp facility. For more information, please visit www.RichmondARC.org.