Our Story

Our story begins with a child. A child two years old and eager to play.

But where?

Our daughter Harper was born blue, not pink and rosy-cheeked like her older twin siblings. She had a debilitating spinal cord injury at birth.

In the beginning, “she can’t walk, she can’t stand, she can’t sit by herself, she can’t eat, she can’t use her fingers,” haunted us. But as she grew we realized, “she can smile, she can talk, she can make friends, she can read, she can experience art, she can laugh and she can love.” What she could do eclipsed what she couldn’t. And she began to play.

When our twins were three, we took them to the playground down the street and to summer camp. We went skiing, hiking, and bowling as a family. But with Harper, we quickly learned that “wheelchair accessible” might mean a ramp to get in, but not shared access to the equipment, her friends, or the fun.

Harper has taught us to try harder, to never give up, and that despite our children’s differences in ability, they want to play. Together.

The barrier to inclusion is not disability, but design.

We quickly realized the issue is not specialized equipment, activities, events, or facilities designed just for those with disabilities. The issue is inclusion.

Shaping activities where all of our children could feel included and play together became our mission. And it’s working.

We’ve already influenced the design of several local playgrounds so they have universal appeal to all children, including those whose diagnoses might otherwise leave them on the sidelines.

We’ve discovered that keeping the idea of inclusion at the center of the planning process allows everyone to brainstorm freely. To find new, more thoughtful ways to approach “typical” play. To plan for all, without catering to those with disabilities.

Every day, with every new volunteer, every new donation, and every new project, our brigade grows. We include more kids, more families, and more caretakers—the healthy ones, those with temporary injuries, and those with chronic or permanent conditions—in an inclusive world of play.

I invite you to join me in writing our story. In this story, exclusion loses. Life wins.

Dawn Oates

Founder and President