CCPRC events are looking to become more inclusive for those with sensory disabilities | Keen Eye Marketing/courtesy CCPRC

Community leaders in the Charleston area are looking to increase inclusivity at their outdoor events and spaces to disabled children and adults or other conditions that make it challenging to enjoy environments like parks, playgrounds, concerts or parties. 

The Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) has partnered with KultureCity, a national nonprofit that specializes in inclusion for those with sensory disabilities.

National studies estimate that one in every six children in the U.S. have sensory disabilities. Those in need of additional sensory accommodations gather information from the senses differently, impacting their experiences in a variety of ways.

“Our partnership is really a part of a recent increase in accessibility, inclusion and access to all of our parks and programs,” said Ashley Hoover,  the county’s recreation administrative manager. “Our hope is that as we go forward, we will be able to make more events sensory inclusive.”

At the moment, the county has a number of inclusive events on its calendar, including swim nights, virtual yoga events and dance parties. Guests of inclusive events can drop by a booth or tent to check out sensory bags or get help locating a quiet zone to get away from potentially overstimulating noise. 

“We’ve received a lot of interaction with the public on-site,” Hoover said. “It’s been an opportunity to educate the public on what we’re doing, but we just want to increase our efforts and improve access to all members of the community.” 

Hoover said the initiative is important not just for Charleston residents, but also those who visit the Lowcountry. 

“It’s important to us that we are able to welcome guests of all abilities and that our guests can enjoy equitable experiences at all of our events,” Hoover said. “This is an important first step. We are planning to offer KultureCity at larger events, like our Latin American festival in October alongside as we welcome back more guests, so that more people can enjoy this experience at our events.” 

The North Charleston Parks and Recreation Department is also working to make city parks and events more inclusive, starting by making sure new parks are designed with an accessibility component to them. 

“We recognize that the majority of the parks and playgrounds in the region are not inclusive for children with what we call ‘exceptionalities,’” said Adam MacConnell, a project manager with the City of North Charleston. “A lot of our parks are just older, and we’ve been maintaining them, and with the Americans with Disabilities Act, that means we need to meet certain standards.”

MacConnell said it isn’t just about meeting requirements though, and that North Charleston works with many people with “exceptionalities,” whether that be those with disabilities or other conditions, and making events and areas more accessible to them has become a sort of passion project. 

One of the first undertakings of this plan is an inclusive park in the Park Circle neighborhood, a site MacConnell could become a case study for what’s possible. A big part of that is making sure inclusion isn’t just focused on kids in playgrounds.

“It’s not only accessible for children, but for the parents as well,” he said. “If you have a parent or grandparent who may be in a wheelchair, there may be opportunities for them to enjoy a park or an outdoor event, or maybe they can help the children navigate the area themselves.”

CCPRC offers a station with headphones, fidget toys and other tools to aid those with disabilities at events | Keen Eye Marketing/courtesy CCPRC

The Park Circle site, located at the park in the area’s namesake roundabout, was one of eight recently selected as a National Demonstration Site by PlayCore’s Center for Outreach, Research and Education. That selection comes with research and data collection aid as well as grant funding for up to 50% of the playground structure cost, currently estimated at $70,000 in grant funding. 

“We thought we had enough money for this, but because Park Circle itself isn’t really accessible — you can’t roll a wheelchair over the gravel — what we thought was a small project became something much more substantial,” MacConnell said. “It really requires updating major facilities, plumbing, sewer, stormwater, electrical and on and on. 

“The public doesn’t typically care about all that background stuff, but if it wasn’t there, we’d certainly hear about it,” he said. “It just takes more time and money than people realize, especially when you’re dealing with older sites.”

MacConnell said the team hopes to have a full design within the next year, and estimates the park would be completely done in no more than three years.

In the meantime, programs and smaller events are being planned by multiple organizations throughout the Lowcountry with accessibility and inclusion in mind. Visit the CCPRC and the City of North Charleston event calendars for more information on upcoming events.