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Harris County unveils its first fully-inclusive park for visitors of all abilities

The 29-acre all-inclusive playground at James Driver Park in Aldine is the first of its kind in Harris County.

James Driver Park, Dec 2021
Cory McGinnis / Houston Public Media

A new park that accommodates children and adults with disabilities is now open in Northeast Harris County — marking the region’s first all-inclusive greenspace.

The yearlong $7.6 million dollar project is the first in Harris County. It didn't take long for children to take over the 29-acre all-inclusive playground at James Driver Park in Aldine during its grand opening ceremony on Saturday.

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One of those children was Fransico Mendez' daughter Emily. The 12-year-old has Spina Bifida and requires special treatment, constant care and can't get around without the aid of a wheelchair. But over the weekend, Emily played at the park just like everyone else.

Mendez said the park was a big improvement for kids and adults who are visually impaired or have mobility issues, and added that they now feel like they’ve found a sanctuary.

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Among those on the playground was Tiffany Carlson’s two children. Carlson said she believed it was important for her children to be able to play with those who are physically challenged.

"It's really important for me for my kids who are able bodied play in a space with individuals with disabilities and feel that inclusion," Carlson said.

According to the website Disability Grants, sensory play is important because it helps children with disabilities learn to live fuller lives. Most of the learning comes through the ability to use their senses to retain information.

The park accommodates this with the inclusion of a sensory garden called "The Big Bridge,” which has an extra-wide ramp for people in wheelchairs, and a shoulder wheel and a serpentine path designed for older adults or those in rehab.

"For an adult with a disability, it can help with the continued rehab process,” said Peggy Turner with The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research at Memorial Hermann Hospital. “If an adult has a child and the adult has a disability, they can come to the park with their kids and still access their children and play with their kids in the park.”

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia was the driving force behind the recreational space in Aldine and said his team weighed several locations, but ultimately decided on James Driver Park due to its proximity to US Highway 59 and its accessibility to public transportation.

As for parents like Francisco Mendez, the new park and playground means the world to him and his daughter.

“This park doesn’t include you,” he said. “It includes us.”

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