An Interview with Lauren Pool, the Woman who Advocated for Tulsa’s New Inclusive Playground
Tulsa is building a new inclusive playground, and TulsaKids is so excited! Click here to read the press release about the new playground planned for Whiteside Park. When completed in 2023, it will be one of the largest inclusive playgrounds in Oklahoma! The person who inspired the playground is Lincoln George. The person who asked officials to create this park is her mother, the strong and powerful advocate, Lauren Pool. I had the opportunity to interview Lauren Pool for a blog in March 2021 about her role as a mother to her daughter with cerebral palsy. She was gracious enough to agree to answer my questions again, this time about her role in Tulsa’s new playground.
Your comments about needing a playground that your daughter, Lincoln, and others with disabilities could play on inspired the new inclusive playground being built at Whiteside Park in 2023. Can you tell us about the experience that prompted the post?
Lauren: I actually had lunch with the mayor and a few others and presented him with a proposal for the park at that time, which was about a week before I posted on social media about the need for an inclusive park. I wrote him a letter about the need, provided examples of equipment, and cited studies that show how important play is for all children, including those with disabilities.
The post about the need for an inclusive park was intended more to get traction on possible funding than it was to get Mayor Bynum or Anna America’s attention. Lincoln was three at the time, and I knew it wouldn’t be too much longer before she outgrew baby swings and there would be nothing left for her, or her disabled peers, to enjoy at our city parks. I noticed every single barrier that prohibited disabled children from playing and knew that I had to bring it to the right leaders’ attention in order to bring about change.
Were you surprised when Mayor Bynum and Anna America responded and acted upon your request?
Lauren: I was not at all surprised that Mayor Bynum and Anna America acted on my request and did so promptly. These are two city leaders who truly care about making our community inclusive, and it’s apparent in many areas of our community. I think they’ve also done a tremendous job of putting the right people in place to support their hearts for inclusion as well. The entire city team that has worked on the Whiteside project has been a dream team.
As a parent of a child with disabilities, have you experienced many places that are not accessible to people in wheelchairs or people with limited mobility?
Lauren: I think because Lincoln is still so small and able to be carried, it’s been hard for us to get a true perception of how limited our access could be to the world due to disability. There are obvious things, such as parks, and there have been times that our access has been limited due to broken elevators, but I think more than accessibility, the true issue is inclusion. When the American Disabilities Act was put into law, it only required public spaces to be accessible, which is way different than being inclusive. For example, any park is accessible. We can get there, there is special parking for us, and there are ramps to get onto sidewalks, etc. The issue lies with what happens once we’ve gained access. Many public places brag about accessibility, but the focus should be on inclusion and making sure the disabled community can participate past the parking lot and front door.
I have a brother with disabilities, and the lack of family bathrooms is a significant issue for us. I was happy to read that there will be a family bathroom with a changing table. Will it be one that is able to be used for adults who need assistance?
Lauren: There will be a height-adjustable, adult-sized changing table! This was so important to us to include because it’s something that is often overlooked in making a space inclusive.
Were you involved in any of the planning for the playground? If so, what were some of the most important features, in your opinion?
Lauren: I was involved in every step of the playground planning. Gosh, every single aspect of this playground was so important! Having play equipment that is at an appropriate height for a child to self-transfer onto, or to have their parent/caregiver easily transfer them onto, was paramount. Designing the space so that all of the equipment is big enough for parents/caregivers to assist kids who need assistance is one of my favorite features. All too often I’m tasked with going down a slide with Lincoln that wasn’t made for child-bearing hips. Every swing is made for kids who may have low tone and the inability to hold themselves upright. Ensuring that all of this equipment was designed for ALL kids was important to every person in our discussions and meetings, and I think we did a great job of making sure that happened. I can’t say enough good things about the team at ACS Playground Adventures and the attention to detail they put into building this inclusive playground.
My brother is 59, but he would still love to be able to play on a playground. Will the playground be for all ages and abilities?
Lauren: The playground is truly for everyone, regardless of age or ability.
What is Lincoln looking most forward to at the new park?
Lauren: Lincoln is most looking forward to being able to play on a playground WITH her brothers!
As a parent of a child with disabilities, you have become a true advocate for all children with disabilities. Was that intentional, or did it evolve naturally as you saw unfulfilled needs?
Lauren: I would say a little bit of both. I would call myself a natural-born advocate, but there has to be intention and action, too, right? I’m never afraid to speak up and advocate in that way, but without action and intention behind my verbal advocacy I can’t expect change. Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “As our case is new, we must think and act anew,” and I think it’s very fitting for the way my advocacy evolves.
In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges for people with disabilities and their families in Oklahoma?
Lauren: One of the biggest challenges families in Oklahoma are faced with as it pertains to disability is healthcare, especially pediatrics. The majority of families I know leave the state for healthcare when they have a child who has high medical needs. Pediatric specialty care just isn’t here. It’s a shame that so many of us are fighting for basic rights for the disabled community, and then we have to fight for adequate healthcare on top of that. Tulsa is the perfect location to become a medical destination. With many families traveling to cities like Kansas City, St. Louis, Dallas, Memphis, Nashville, and beyond, it only makes sense to ensure we have pediatric specialists in place to retain patients, as well as bring patients here from out of state.
Thanks for being an advocate for people with disabilities! What can we expect from you in the future?
Lauren: Piggybacking off my last answer, you can expect to see me trying my hardest to bridge the healthcare gap for pediatric specialty patients in Oklahoma. I have some plans in place to do so, but it’s going to take time and community support. Stay tuned though, because I’m just getting started!