The colorful Clemyjontri Park playground in McLean has long been a draw for kids and adults in the Washington area who are looking for an inclusive play experience. This summer, the playground also played host to teens from around the world who are visiting the United States through the group Mobility International USA.
The Oregon-based, disability-led non-profit serves people with a broad range of disabilities and is dedicated to advancing disability rights and leadership throughout the world. It reached out to the Park Authority for suggestions on accessible places the teens could visit in Fairfax County, and Clemyjontri was an easy choice.
With huge smiles and delight in their voices, the teens described how it felt to ride the park’s accessible carousel.
“So amazing,” said a teenage girl from Senegal after her first-ever carousel ride. A girl from Kazakhstan called it “cool and amazing” and said she wanted to try it one more time. Another said it was “really great.”
The teenage boys had big smiles on their faces, too. One admitted he didn’t know what to expect but found the ride to be “fun” and “amazing.” A youth from Tunisia summed up the experience as “relaxing and nice.” One just flashed a big thumbs-up as the carousel spun ‘round and ‘round.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of individuals who are disabled in the United States, Park Authority ADA Coordinator Gary Logue explains that the visiting teens came from countries where their rights do not receive similar protection. They had a range of physical and sensory disabilities, such as low vision and blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and amputations, which can make play at a typical playground challenging, if not impossible. Some of the group’s leaders enjoyed some first-time-ever playground experiences, too.
No matter their age or ability, Logue says, “Everyone is impressed with the sheer enormity of the playground and accessibility features.” In particular, he notes, “the carousel has been a big hit” as some of these visitors have never had the opportunity to take such a spin before. In addition to the carousel rides, one teen who came to the park in a wheelchair was thrilled by his first ride on a swing, thanks to the specially-designed Liberty Swing.
The visit to Clemyjontri was about more than just providing a day of fun. By exposing these teens to accessible features in the United States, Mobility International USA hopes to help increase rights for individuals with disabilities throughout the world and demonstrate what is possible when inclusiveness is the goal.
Author Carol Ochs is with the Park Authority’s Public Information Office. Photos provided by Park Authority Photographer Don Sweeney and ADA Coordinator Gary Logue. Video editing by the Park Authority’s Joe Jasper and voiceover by Stewardship Communications Manager Dave Ochs.