West Hartford’s Jonathan’s Dream Park utilizes CRIS Radio and QR codes to increase the accessibility of the park.
By Lily Guberman
Jonathan’s Dream Park aims to be as inclusive as possible for children of all abilities, and on Wednesday there was celebration of an innovation which will make the playground more accessible to those who are visually impaired.
QR codes have been added around the playground, powered by CRIS (Connecticut Radio Information System), a 42-year-old nonprofit based in Windsor, CT, and the only radio reading service in the state that provides audio access 24/7 for those who are blind or print-challenged.
The QR codes can be scanned using the CRISAccess Mobile App,or through GPS tracking. When a user approaches a piece of equipment, their phone will automatically begin reading the audio description, voiced by Brad Drazen.
Drazen, a West Hartford resident and former TV anchor and reporter, was also in attendance Wednesday.
The original Jonathan’s Dream playground, which opened in 1996, was built as the dream of resident Amy Barzach and her family, as a legacy to honor their son, Jonathan, who was born in 1994 with the degenerative neuromuscular disorder Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Sadly, Jonathan died before his first birthday.
After searching for a place to build, Barzach received the green light for the playground on the campus of the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford.
Had he lived, Jonathan would have been confined to a wheelchair, and Barzach never forgot a moment, before her son’s diagnosis, when she had noticed a young girl in a wheelchair sadly watching other children on the playground. Barzach was inspired to build Jonathan’s Dream, and following the success of that innovative concept went on to found and serve as executive director of the nonprofit Boundless Playgrounds, building accessible playgrounds, where children with and without disabilities could play together, in more than 200 communities.
The original playground equipment was made of wood, and when it deteriorated to a point where it became unsafe, the playground was closed and dismantled. But Barzach, along with resident Ronit Shoham, reimagined the site to make it even more accessible.
After a successful fundraising campaign, groundbreaking was held in April 2017, and the new Jonathan’s Dream opened on Oct. 22, 2017, with even more accessible playground equipment to include more children.
Shoham, now the manager of Jonathan’s Dream Park, shared some welcoming remarks Wednesday, speaking about the opening of the first version of the park. She emphasized the meaning to the community and to parents of children who have a place to play with any of their peers.
Barzach spoke about how her son Jonathan had inspired the creation of the park, and all the hard work that went into making the first and second versions a reality. She mentioned that her other son, Daniel, said to her the other day that she taught him “how to deal with loss by celebrating life,” a message she wanted those in attendance to take to heart.
Following those remarks, Paul Young, chairman of CRIS Radio, recognized funders of the park which included the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Greater Hartford Host Lions Club, and Henry Nias Foundation. He also thanked public officials for their continued support, including Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, state Sen. Cathy Osten, Department of Aging and Disability Services Commisioner Amy Porter, state Rep. Kate Farrar, and state Rep. Jillian Gillchrest.
During her speech, Diane Weaver Dunne, executive director at CRIS Radio, emphasized the importance of inclusiveness, accessibility, and collaboration. Those themes were echoed in Bysiewicz’s remarks, as well as by Osten.
“Every child should have the ability to get up and go out to a park, and they deserve to feel like every other child,” said Osten.
West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor was also in attendance, and she reiterated the role of support services. “In life we go through phases of what we need … support services of things we may not think we need now, might become something we will.”
Cantor recalled when Barzach was trying to build the first Jonathan’s dream and approached the town. She was told that she was just a mom, and she wouldn’t be able to get it done.
“Look at what ‘just moms’ can do,” said Cantor to a chuckling audience.
Adults and children, with and without disabilities can enjoy Jonathan’s Dream Park, open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and feel like they belong.
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