MURRAY — A proposal to make communication easier for nonverbal users at playgrounds run by Murray-Calloway County Parks & Recreation was approved unanimously Monday night.
The method of choice is a visual aid known as a core communication board, which displays various pictures that enable someone who has difficulty communicating by voice to point at these images in order to tell a parent, guardian or mentor what they are wanting to say. For example, a picture that displays white box with a black question mark inside is accompanied by the word “what” or a face with a smile will be accompanied by the word “like.”
The proposal was made Monday by Parks & Recreation Maintenance Director Steve Wilhelm, who said he was approached by both Calloway County Schools and the Murray Independent School District, specifically their Head Start programs, about adding such a feature to the Jimmy and Dot Rickman Playground at Central Park, which is an all-inclusive facility that meets ADA standards.
“These things are so new, though, the playground companies do not have them yet,” Wilhelm said before telling the board how he had heard that one firm could design such a board for $1,500 just for the Rickman facility. “I got to thinking and I came to the conclusion that we could do four boards, one for each playground we have (in Central and Chestnut parks).”
Wilhelm then produced an artist rendering designed to show how the board would appear.
“They’d be designed specifically for each playground, and I think it would be best to put four different boards at the different playgrounds in the park because I do believe the lack of communication in children seems to be getting bigger and bigger,” he said, noting that his wife is a teacher in the Calloway system and deals with this issue daily. “So it’s sort of been a personal project of mine, and I’ve been working on it the past two months so now I wanted to see if we can get funding for it. My wanting to do this for all four is because I think it would be a broader reach. I think the same problems are in place at all of the playgrounds, not just ADA.
“I guess (the school systems) are kind of using me as a guinea pig. If I can get these communication boards done for cheap, the elementary schools particularly will probably work through the same system I’m working through and put these in at all of their playgrounds too.”
Wilhelm said each picture would measure 4 x 6 inches on a board that would measure 48 x 28 inches.
“I like it because I think it does exactly what I’ve wanted (the Rickman facility) to do all along, and that is open the park to people who don’t have access or people who don’t have things to do in the park. This opens it up even more,” said Park Board Chairman Jason Lovett. “It’s amazing how little of a thing this is (as far as cost), but when you can’t communicate, how big is that? That’s why I’m excited about this.”
The creation of the boards will be financed by money from the board’s Rickman Playground fund. Jimmy — a longtime builder of subdivisions in the Murray area — and his wife, Dot, have donated more than $155,000 to various parks projects the past several years.
“The goal is inclusion, right?” said Park Board member Holly Bloodworth, who has first-hand knowledge of the value of these core boards. She helps organize the Penguin Project at Playhouse in the Park, which is a production whose cast consists entirely of artists with mental and physical disabilities. “I have a boy in the Penguin Project who has trouble communicating; he’s autistic. I brought one of those boards with me one night and, all of a sudden, his mentor and he could communicate. He’s able to say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and his mentor can ask, ‘How are you feeling?’
“That’s what our goal should be; set it up for success.”