UNION COUNTY, NJ — The county’s 21 municipalities will divide a half million dollars to make local playgrounds more accessible for children with disabilities.
The grants, ranging from $15,000 to $25,470 per town, were approved at the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders’ Feb. 8 meeting.
“Every child should be able to enjoy a playground in or near their neighborhood, and participate in enriching sensory experiences with friends, family and neighbors from all walks of life,” freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados said in a March 15 press release.
The new “Level the Playing Field” grant program was introduced by Granados last year, and is part of UC HEART, his 2018 outreach and advocacy initiative.
“We would like this program to become a statewide model for counties and local governments, showing how we can work together and help all families make healthy outdoor play a lifetime habit,” Granados said in the release.
Once all projects are completed, the county will be the first in New Jersey, and the first in the United States, to have a playground compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act for every municipality within its borders, according to county spokesman Seb D’Elia.
Sixteen municipalities, including Berkeley Heights, Clark, Cranford, Garwood, Kenilworth, Linden, Mountainside, New Providence, Plainfield, Rahway, Roselle, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains, Springfield, Summit and Winfield Park received $25,470.
Other municipalities were allotted lesser amounts. Fanwood and Westfield received $15,000; Hillside recieved $20,000; and Union was awarded $17,010.
Some parks have already been renovated to make them ADA-compliant, such as Mattano Park in Elizabeth and the Sensory Trail in Watchung Reservation.
The Watchung Reservation trail is a three-tenths of a mile loop that includes Braille signs with rope guides and nature-themed play structures.
In addition to the recent developments within the county’s park system, programming and special events are offered for people with disabilities at the Sensory Friendly Theatre at the Union County Performing Arts Center and the Ulrich Swimming Pool in Rahway, and the Watchung Stables and Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside.
Annual fishing derbies, an ice skating social, summer carnival and barn dance, golf, karate, yoga and volleyball events also are organized.
Earlier this year, the county created the Office for People with Special Needs, the first office of its kind in New Jersey. A county release notes that the new office is charged with improving recreational and social opportunities, outreach to community groups and identifying new opportunities for engaging people with special needs.
The office operates under the new Division of Outreach and Advocacy in the Department of Human Services.