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      Effort for accessible playground needs help

      The city of Hannibal is teaming up with some area agencies in hopes of raising enough money to build an accessible playground for all children. This swing is an example of playground equipment children bound to wheelchairs can utilize.

      Imagine taking your child to a park where they can't play. That's the reality facing many parents of disabled children in Hannibal.

      Of the city's eight parks, none are handicap accessible. But now the city of Hannibal is teaming up with North East Independent Living Services or NEILS in hopes of raising enough money to build a playground that all children can enjoy together.

      But fulfilling this simple need will take the community's support.

      Seven year-old Dawson Brown has never gotten to climb a slide. He's confined to this wheelchair as he watches his two brothers play from afar. His mother Shanee Brown says its enough to break your heart.

      What is it like to go to a playground and not see Dawson play?

      His mother Shanee Brown said, "It's hard. There's a lot of things in Dawson's life that are a struggle. He wonders why he doesn't get to be involved."

      The Right to Play Project was created in hopes of raising enough money to build a playground all children can enjoy. Efforts began after NEILS Outreach Coordinator Brooke Kendrick and her other co-workers at NEILS looked into what was available locally for disabled children. They were saddened by what they found.

      Kendrick said, "We realized very quickly that one of the things all kids like to do is play at the playground. We also quickly realized there were no accesible playgrounds in the area for children with disabilities."

      In fact, the closest public handicap accessible playground was in Lake St. Louis. That's when the group teamed up with Hannibal's Parks and Recreation Department. But with no funding, the group is asking the community for help raising a half million dollars to build a public playground where children in wheelchairs can play with able-bodied children. Organizers say this park will allow both kids with disabilities and without to play together and build friendships between them.

      When completed the new ADA compliant playground will replace the one in Huckleberry Park in Hannibal and will span about two acres.

      Hannibal Parks and Recreation Director Chris Atkinson said, "We're looking at this as being a regional attraction, not just something for our residents."

      Kendrick said, "All children should have a place to play at a playground."

      Supporters also say disabled parents should be able to play with their children. Garrett Lawrence was born with cerebral palsy and is dependent on his wheelchair to get around. He's also getting married soon and hopes to be able to play with his own children someday. A playground like this would make that possible.

      How important is it to have playgrounds for kids with disabilities?

      Garrett Lawrence, NEILS Board President said, "It's important because it gives them the freedom to be themselves."

      That's freedom Shanee would love to see for her son.

      Shanee Brown said, "It will be so neat for Dawson to be able to roll right up into it and play. We would get to do what every other normal family does every day. It would make a difference to us."

      And a difference to little Dawson.

      Would you like to see a park here?

      Dawson Brown exclaimed, "Oh yeah baby!"

      You might also wonder why a playground like this costs so much.

      Part of the issue is because the ground has to be covered with rubber mats, instead of rock and wood chips.

      If you can help with any donations please contact NEILS at (573) 221-8282.