Pride And Pirate Ships

By Roger Stromgren

The needs of a community can only be articulated by the community at large. And when the conversation is about designing a universal-abilities playground, the needs of children with different types of disabilities must be considered.


The city of Brentwood, Calif., did just that when officials met with representatives from the Special Kids Foundation to discuss the needs of the community’s disabled children, and to determine whether the city was meeting those needs. Immediately, 13 disabilities were generalized into five areas for ease in planning:

  • Social/emotional
  • Physical
  • Sensory
  • Cognitive
  • Communicative.

A planning workshop welcomed input from city staff, the parks and recreation commission, the Special Kids Foundation, and members of the community. It was determined that the location of the play equipment would require restrooms, parking, seating, shade, and easy access. A site was ultimately chosen for its proximity to an existing playground, which would allow siblings to play together in the same park.

Design For Disabilities
In discussing a theme for the park, the pirate ship emerged as the most popular. The bow and stern of the ship were to be cast concrete, with molded amenities to stimulate the imagination. These included ropes, a treasure chest, an anchor, a cannonball lodged in the side of the ship, blue waves rolling off the bow, a compass, lanterns, cannons, climbing stairs to challenge the children’s physical abilities, and the Jolly Roger skull and crossbones flag on the mast.

A list of play equipment was developed that addressed every currently known disability, and incorporated those into the design. Because no two children have the same disabilities, signage was installed to illustrate the equipment used as well as the attendant disability. In this way, parents would be able to work on specific disabilities, and know which piece of equipment was designed to meet that challenge.

Although no architect designed the playground layout, the city relied on staff members with the appropriate field knowledge to design/build it, which worked out great and also came in under budget.

For such a celebrated accomplishment, there was an official ribbon cutting, after which the kids ran to the equipment. It’s not clear whose smiles were bigger: the kids or those workers involved in designing the park.

Roger Stromgren is the Park/Maintenance Manager for the city of Brentwood Parks and Recreation Department in California. Reach him at .


Special Kids Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization serving East Contra Costa County in California, has as its mission to provide “education, awareness, and success” to families with children with special needs of every type, and to provide them “with the resources to navigate the difficult road of raising these ’Special Kids’ to be productive, happy, successful adults, regardless of their disabilities. For more information, visit .