South Fayette’s Morgan Park installs adaptive swings
Gina Esch’s smile stretched from ear to ear as she watched her son Connor soar through the air on the new bright yellow swing at South Fayette’s Morgan Park.
This wasn’t just any swing.
The GameTime Expression Swing is made for two, with an adult swing directly facing an adaptive hard surface swing that provides extra support for children of all abilities.
The two can swing together, interacting and enjoying their play time.
For Connor, 13, who has autism and is nonverbal, this gave him a chance to swing. He can’t sit on a normal swing.
His family members took turns swinging across from him, with sister Lauren, 10, getting the first ride.
“It was really fun to swing with him,” she said. “It was nice because I got to see how happy he was. I think he was excited.”
South Fayette Township on May 8 debuted two expression swings at Morgan Park during a Kids Play Day celebration that included balloon artists, bouncy houses and the first swing on the new equipment.
Both of the new swings at the park have two seats: One for the child and one facing them for a parent, grandparent, friend or caregiver. The goal is to encourage interactive, intergenerational play for children with all abilities, said Paula Willis, parks and recreation director.
One swing features a bucket seat for a child 24 months or younger, with an adult swing facing it.
The other includes an adaptive seat meant to be inclusive for children of all abilities, ages 5 to 12 years.
Willis learned of the interactive, inclusive swings when attending a conference by the Pennsylvania Recreation & Parks Society.
In October, she attended another conference, Play for Change, held by the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative. It was funded through the Grable Foundation and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
The conference focused on the importance of play in people’s lives and communities, said Sarah Siplak, director of the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative.
Willis said she immediately thought of the expression swings. She applied for a grant that was offered through the conference and received $3,500 toward the purchase of the two swings.
Siplak said the idea for the swings “blew us away.”
Infants and caregivers alike have a chance to see the smiles on each others’ faces up close as they swing together in unison, she said. The same can happen on the larger swing for people of all abilities.
“Seeing it in person, it’s so beautiful,” Siplak said. “It’s something that we need more of, especially in this technological era where we want to be on our phones. The way it encourages interaction is just beautiful.”
The Watson Institute, which opened its Education Center South in South Fayette in 2017, participated in the event. The school serves roughly 140 students with autism and multiple disabilities from southern Allegheny County.
Connor Esch is a student at the school.
The swing gives kids with disabilities a place they can “play and interact with typical kids,” said Marilyn Hoyson, chief operating officer. “Everybody can find something to play with.”
But the swings are just a starting point, said Gwen Rodi, vice president of the board of commissioners in South Fayette.
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity and it brings things for special needs children that don’t exist elsewhere. It opens the doors to other opportunities,” she said. “Now that we have these swings, what else can we do to meet the needs for all children? We look forward to building upon it.”
The Esches, who moved to South Fayette from Milwaukee, said that’s just what happened in their former town. Gina would drive Connor 15 minutes to get to the nearest park with an adaptive swing. Then, the park grew into an entire adaptive playground.
Moving to South Fayette and the Pittsburgh region, they hadn’t yet found an adaptive swing for Connor in an area park. Now, they’re excited to have one right in their own community where their kids play baseball and softball all summer and fall long.
“It’s fantastic that it’s right by our home,” Gina Esch said.
With a parks master plan in the works, inclusivity is a priority, Willis said.
“We want to make our parks more inclusive, to encourage play for all ages and all abilities,” she said.
Kristina Serafini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kristina at 412-324-1405, [email protected] or via Twitter .