CHEVY CHASE, MD- Modeled after sandcastles and geared toward toddlers, some newly constructed real estate along a busy road in southern Montgomery County are sure to elicit a few double takes from passersby this month. At least 8 playhouses of various shapes and sizes will be on display near the Friendship Heights Metro station. Though their designs are varied, one play structure created by a team of occupational therapists and architects affiliated with Rebuilding Together Montgomery County has a unique goal–to provide accessible play for children who have disabilities.
“Our construction team is committed to universal design, particularly design that addresses inclusion for children with disabilities,” says Kathleen Kirchner, an occupational therapist who specializes in accessibility modifications for people of all ages in Bethesda. “The playhouse offers a variety of fun, sensorimotor features that provide these kids with age-appropriate vestibular, tactile, fine and gross motor, hearing/musical, emotional, and visual stimulation during play–all of which contribute to children’s most important occupation: play.”
Kirchner and business partner and retired physical therapist Carol Wasserman at Bethesda-based Accessible Home Associates LLC which serves the DC-metro area, created the sandcastle structure to have an authentic adventurous appeal without institutional appearance. Transportable ramps behind fortress walls enable preschoolers with mobility challenges access to a stage area on a second level. The interior has several activity areas, each offering different types of fine and gross motor play.
What: Rebuilding Hope Playhouse Project Display
Where: The Shops at Wisconsin Place (Friendship Heights Metro), 5310 Western Ave. (intersection of Wisconsin and Western avenues), Chevy Chase
When: Display through June 25, 2016 (Auction on June 18)
Why: To raise awareness of the importance of accessible play and to raise money for Rebuilding Together Montgomery County
More information: www.rebuildingtogether.org
Occupational therapy practitioners are experts in activity participation (occupations) such as self-care, work, and play. For children, play is an important occupation that facilitates both physical and mental growth.
“While they may not be needed by all, Universal Design principles work for everyone—adults and children of all abilities—and the results can be beautiful and fun,” says Kirchner, adding that this is the first time an accessible playhouse has been created for this project, meaning it can be used in public places, a preschool, or place of worship. “We would love to see every home, every playground be accessible to persons with disabilities, and not have anyone notice that it is.”
The playhouses will be on display through June 25 although they will be auctioned off on June 18 to raise money for Rebuilding Together Montgomery County, a nonprofit organization that works to provide critical home repairs, energy efficiency upgrades, and accessibility modifications to those who need them. According to Rebuilding Together, the repairs and links to community resources prevent homelessness, preserve affordable housing, and provide safe and independent living for the community’s most vulnerable residents. Additionally, work revitalizes and stabilizes vulnerable neighborhoods and communities across the county. (Learn more at www.rebuildingtogethermc.org)
Accessible Home Associates’ playhouse design was funded by Baltimore County resident Ed Slattery, whose wife was killed and teenage son severely injured by a truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel. Occupational therapists helped design a new, accessible home for him and his son Matthew, who lives with challenges from a traumatic brain injury sustained in the crash. Slattery is now the consumer advisor and philanthropist for Finding a New Normal (FANN).
Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 213,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting professional and educational standards, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., AOTA’s major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, go to .