Accessible Playgrounds in Urban Neighborhoods: A Legacy Story

Nearly two decades ago, Sandra Gordon, former Director of Public Relations for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), was looking for ways to educate the public about AAOS members. Research showed that people knew very little about orthopedic surgeons — and when they did think of them, it was as high-tech practitioners. But actually, Gordon said, orthopedic surgeons are high-touch, caring doctors. She said: “They’re the ones who take care of children who break their legs on playgrounds.”

Words Barbara Palmer, senior editor and director of digital content for PCMA Convene

AAOS already was working on a public-education campaign about playground safety. So, Gordon thought, why not invite attendees at the AAOS Annual Meeting — the largest in the world for orthopedic medical professionals — to build a model playground that is safe and wheelchair-accessible in the meeting destination? The association then would leave the playground behind as a permanent gift to the host city, as well as a lasting illustration of what AAOS members care about.

Since 2000, AAOS has built 17 playgrounds in cities ranging from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. The association’s latest creation — constructed, like all the others, in one day — was at Central Avenue Elementary School in Kissimmee, Florida, near Orlando. (The project was designed with the help of local children, who drew crayon pictures of their ideas of a dream playground.) The AAOS 2016 Annual Meeting was held at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.

The “Safe and Accessible Playground Build” program has been a success from the start, Gordon said, in large part because it tracks so closely with AAOS members’ interests. Many of the medical professionals’ patients are wheelchair-bound or have other disabilities that make the average playground they encounter unusable, so each project emphasizes accessibility as well as safety. “Our members went crazy over it,” Gordon said. “Everybody wants to be involved.” And in fact, every year the event draws more willing volunteers than AAOS can handle — more than 200 surgeons, nurses, industry partners, exhibitors, and local community members came together during the six-hour-long project in Kissimmee.

Read the rest of Barbara’s story in Boardroom Launch Issue.

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