By Kami-Leigh Agard
Dear Rockaway Times readers, with schools closing in less than 10 days, many of our children are looking forward to two months of carefree abandonment in their hard-earned holy grail—summer vacation! On the other hand, for families like mine—with members on the autism spectrum and other special needs—the seemingly never-ending, stressful school year continues with the open-ended question—what to do after school for fun? However, folks—get ready for a game changer! With Beach 59th Street Playground, Rockaway’s first-ever, all-inclusive, special needs accommodating, public play space, officially opening next week—my daughter and her peers’ after-school/weekend babysitter, called the smartphone or the television, will be receiving the pink slip.
The powerhouse behind the effort for the playground is local resident, Florence Ferguson, also affectionately known as “Lady Flo.” Ferguson serves as board president of Friends of the Beach 59th Street Playground Association and also board member of disability advocacy nonprofit, Perfect Piece of the Puzzle. For just under a decade, Ferguson, with the support of the community, has unrelentingly stayed the course to get the playground refurbished to meet the needs of all children, including those with special needs.
She shared, “In 1995, I moved to Rockaway because I am a beach fanatic. When I settled here, the houses across the street from me did not exist. However, I grasped the opportunity to purchase a home here because I knew that a renaissance was coming.
“Then, one day, I was walking down the block, looking at this dilapidated and forlorn playground. I am looking at the kids and hearing the neighbors complaining. So, one day, my like-minded neighbors and I all got together, walked up to then-Councilman Donovan Richards’ office and said, ‘Hey, we have a problem! We have elements that we don’t like that are disrupting the peace of the neighborhood.’ We said that this is not Rockaway as usual. Rockaway is changing. It is time that we address the problems of the neighborhood. What was in the past does not always have to be that way. All it takes is a few interested people to make it happen.”
Fast forward to today, Ferguson and the community are reaping the rewards from years of steadfast advocacy. Next Tuesday, June 20 at 9 a.m., join Friends of the Beach 59th Street Playground Association for the official ribbon-cutting of the playground, co-hosted by Queen Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers and NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue.
Ferguson said, “All of our children deserve the very best. They are our future.”
When we think about making public spaces accessible to disabled people, we usually think about making those spaces accessible to people with physical disabilities. However, the fact is that for many families with members on the spectrum or that have other sensory or mental disorders—parks and playgrounds are vitally important. An affordable, mixed-use space that can be valuable for every member of the family. In fact, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, requires that all public spaces, including public parks and playgrounds, be accessible to all people with disabilities.
According to Ferguson, the Beach 59th Street Playground will be accommodating for all individuals, not just those with physical handicaps, but also with sensory-seeking needs.
“Usually, in a park, there are things for every level of capability. Whatever the activities are. It’s endless what kids can do, and we aim for the Beach 59th Street Playground to accommodate all individuals in their respective needs and capacity,” Ferguson said.
Personally, I can attest that many times I’m fearful of going to public parks because I worry about my daughter’s safety, and how people, who are not acclimated to the autism world, will treat her. However, public parks, especially those in Rockaway, boasting the ocean and bay as the backdrop, are an immense blessing. And with the Beach 59th Street Playground, I’m just grateful to go to a welcoming space with my daughter, without having to be constantly on guard.
So, folks—put Beach 59th Street Playground on your summer radar! For further info, including upcoming events, visit the Facebook page: Friends of the Beach 59th Street Playground Association.