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Albany, OR: 'Sensory friendly' playground to open in park

An Albany park is getting an update with accessibility in mind.

Playground equipment at Lehigh Park will be swapped out this summer for equipment geared towards those with mobility and sensory difficulties.

A pair of swings, a slide and a bridge sit in the center of Lehigh Park, painted bright orange. But soon they will be gone and a new set of equipment will take their place.

The playground equipment at Lehigh Park in Albany as seen May 12, 2023. Soon, the equipment will be replaced with sensory-friendly elements.

The proposed changes are intended to be “sensory friendly,” said Parks and Recreation Director Kim Lyddane.

It’s an effort to provide an alternative to the sometimes hectic environment of a playground, she said. Traditional playgrounds may be overwhelming for some children, with all the noises and given the arrangement of various playground elements.

“We want to make sure kiddos who may be overstimulated can find a place and we want to provide an opportunity for an easier experience,” Lyddane said.

The potential new elements are structured differently, they may be closer to the ground, different panels with different textures or sounds to play with. The idea is to give children who may have impaired sight or mobility issues some alternatives for play.

The main play structure incorporates flexible belts to aid those with limited mobility to navigate the structure. Some of the other park elements may include a two-person “friendship swing” and sensory panels that incorporate colors, music, sounds and tactile activities.

There also will be a spinner that has transfer points for those with mobility devices and a communication board with images for those who may be non verbal or have limited speech to communicate. …

The project has been on the city's “to-do list” for several years, Lyddane said. With a mixture of department funds and grants, the city has about $200,000 to cover the project. Some of the money came from Lehigh being identified as a low- to moderate-income area, she added.

She expects the playground equipment to be installed by July.

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