Army veteran brings the benefits of play to people of all abilities

In the U.S., we don’t always grasp that most of us will experience aging and varying abilities. The design of our public spaces often reflects that lack of understanding. Not everyone can easily navigate and use these spaces, including the veterans who serve our country and return home with a disability or change in ability.

Ingrid Kanics

However, there are bold minds who do consider the full range of ability in our society—and how we can build environments where everyone thrives. Army veteran Ingrid Kanics is one of these people.

Ingrid uses the World Health Organization’s definition of disability: “the interaction between individuals with a health condition and personal and environmental factors (e.g. negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social supports).”

In other words, disability is not an individual’s problem—it’s about how they are supported as they engage with the world. Ingrid helps people of all ages and abilities transcend barriers and build healthier lives by creating inclusive indoor and outdoor spaces where everyone can play.

The founder and owner of Kanics Inclusive Design Services, LLC, Ingrid is a powerhouse who combines a wide range of personal experiences and interests: a Master of Occupational Therapy and Master of Interior Architecture; a deep understanding of sensory play; a never-waning sense of wonder and curiosity.

At 29, however, Ingrid was on a different path, joining the Army with plans to train as a physical therapist and help soldiers rehabilitate. Everything changed when she sustained a profound injury to her spinal cord during basic training.

After emergency surgery and 18 months in rehab, Ingrid learned to walk again, but when she shifted her professional focus to occupational therapy, she truly found her stride. She decided to go “bimobile,” using a wheelchair part-time to manage her energy more efficiently. She became more active and started playing sports again.

During this time, Ingrid was working in maintenance at a sensory integration clinic. As she cleaned and organized the clinic, she got to know the children and families in treatment and developed a deep empathy for them. Her conversations and observations helped build a foundation for her future.

Ingrid earned her first master’s and worked with Pittsburgh’s Center for Creative Play before founding her consulting business in 2010. One of her first consultant roles came with Landscape Structures.

We-Go-Swing™

On projects with Landscape Structures, Ingrid collaborates throughout the product development process with everyone from engineers to the sales team. She prioritizes several factors. First, are they meeting an unfilled need? Before the team developed the We-Go Swing™, for example, there were extremely limited swing options that allow children and adults of all abilities to join and actively contribute to the play experience.

She also considers inclusivity and how products support different populations. In her occupational therapy role, Ingrid has worked with kids with a variety of health conditions and sensory needs. She thinks about how each kid would benefit from a new product, along with other kids of varying abilities, with a consistent goal of creating inclusive play spaces where kids of all abilities can interact face-to-face.

At Landscape Structures, Ingrid has been involved from the ground up with what she calls the “We” Collection, which includes the We-Go-Swing as well as an inclusive see-saw (the We-Saw™) that is easier to access and offers space in the middle for kids who want less movement. It also includes the We-Go-Round™, a modern take on a merry-go-round, that has room for kids and adults using mobility devices and allows them to help support motion.

All three elements are about cooperation, socialization and working together to have fun. And, all allow parents, grandparents and other adults with disabilities to play with their children. That’s important to Ingrid, who’s always thinking about Wounded Warriors who come home and want to remain vital members of their communities. Her life and experiences give her a firsthand understanding of the desire to stay involved and the vitality we all have to offer—and her work helps people live more fully, one play experience at a time.

Tap into Ingrid’s experiences and expertise! She’s available to present sessions about inclusion, inclusive play space design, multigenerational design and evidence-based playground design to your community or organization. Browse our education offerings, and schedule one today.

Limited editions

We’re excited to have Jill Moore, marketing specialist at Landscape Structures, as our guest blogger today. Read on to learn a little more about this North Carolina native, and be sure to check back as Jill will be a regular contributor. In fact, you should subscribe so that you’ll receive notifications of all our new posts by email.

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I’m terrible at keeping up with current politically correct labels. It’s a real problem in my life because as a wheelchair user, you’d think I’d be an authority on it. However, I’m not sure what the term is this week. It moves from handicapped to wheelchair-bound, to disabled or special needs. Differently-abled. Handi-capable. I’ve heard it all.

When people ask me what I’d rather be called, I typically just go with “Jill works just fine.” Otherwise, I think everything else carries a flimsy stigma to it. Disabled, handicapped, special needs—it’s boring and it sounds lesser. We’re all differently-abled. Every time I get called “handi-capable,” a part of me can’t help but cringe, and I’m certainly not bound to my wheelchair by any means. I used to giggle when little kids asked me if I sleep in my wheelchair, but I am astounded by the amount of people that I encounter who believe this is a permanent setup. A wheelchair is just another mobility aid. It’s closer to a pair of shoes or glasses than a permanent implant. That, however, is a rant for a different day.

I was born with Spina Bifida. Essentially, this means I was born with a hole in my spine, which caused the lower half of my body to develop differently than my peers. At age 7, I popped a squat into a manual wheelchair and I stuck with it from then on. I’ve learned, however, that using a wheelchair makes me appear different enough to make people want to throw a label on me. I’ve never thought much about what I’d prefer that label to be until recently, and it started with a playground.

Since starting my journey in the world of playgrounds two years ago, I’ve met some incredible people with incredible stories. They all have one thing in common—an astounding penchant for spreading play to every single child. These are parents, friends, grandparents, community advocates—people of all walks of life who are taking the time to teach all children that they matter. This story comes from Buffalo, N.Y.

It was a snowy day in November. I was beyond tired, totally not wearing a warm enough jacket, hadn’t had nearly enough snacks that day, and if you ask me—it’s not supposed to snow until midnight on Dec. 24, and not a moment sooner. A colleague and I were scoping out an inclusive playground in the area. We pulled in to see a man painstakingly removing snow from each of the shade structures on the playground. Those aren’t usually kept up during the winter due to snow weighing them down, so for someone to be religiously removing the snow seemed like a huge labor of love in itself. We pulled in and greeted the man, and I soon learned him to be the head and the heart behind the playground itself—Jason Evchich.

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Jason is one of those people that speaks with contagious enthusiasm. The first thing that he told us was that he hated the term “special needs.” I had to agree with him on that one, but I had to find out why that term irked him so much. Turns out, Jason has three kids. Two of which, Mason and Matthew, were born with an undiagnosed form of what I later learned to be known as Hypomyelinating Leukodystrophy. Haven’t heard of it? Don’t worry—I had to do some research of my own. It’s so rare that it doesn’t even formally have a name—just a number. This condition hindered their development to the point that they can’t walk, talk or join their older sister, McKenna, in play.

He hated the idea of his children being stuck with the “special needs” label just because they had to move differently—and even more, he hated the idea of them being left on the outskirts of play. With that, he introduced us to his preferred term, “limited edition.” When we hear something is limited edition, we don’t think it lesser. We think of it as unique, special, one of a kind, probably expensive, and any number of alternative cool titles before we hit the idea that it’s different in a negative way.

Jason was SO passionate about bringing play to his children that he was ready to build a public playground in his backyard for the whole neighborhood to enjoy. His wife wasn’t entirely on board with their backyard being the neighborhood hot spot, so they compromised and built Mason’s Mission just across the street. With the idea of an inclusive playground for all of his children to play together and make new friends in mind, Mason’s Mission was founded and a force was rallied to build an inclusive playground so that children of all abilities could join in play.

It’s safe to say that all of us are Limited Edition in some variety. Nobody fits into the perfect box of a “normal human.” We’re all unique. We’re all special. We’re all one-of-a-kind, and I have to say, Limited Edition was finally a label I was pretty excited to say I belonged to.

Spreading the message of inclusion

ShanesBlog

We are proud to partner with Shane’s Inspiration on a common goal of promoting play for children of all abilities. Together, we’ve created nearly 50 Universally Accessible Playgrounds including the first in Mexico and Ecuador.

Even more, we’re working with them to promote the animated short film, “Ian.” This powerful, Academy Award eligible film, aims to help children understand disability and spread the message of inclusion to every home. Tools to facilitate Q&A following the film can be found here.

Watch the film above, and please share it with the following message: Please watch and share the film “Ian” and help us create a more inclusive world! http://ow.ly/PyFR30mU6Di #InclusionRules_IanFilm @fundacionian @ShanesPlay #shapedbyplay