On a bitterly cold Friday afternoon 17 old Lucienne Merkatz has come to see the very special children’s swing she has donated to the playground at Glen Island Park in New Rochelle. While the below freezing 21 degree weather makes it unbearable for kids to enjoy fun on the playground this day, on warmer days the bright red swing will offer disabled children a simple pleasure that other kids take for granted – the delight of fun swinging time on the playground.
Through her organization, 50 Red Swings, Merkatz is raising money to put one of the adaptive swings in every state. The swing seat comes with a harness for security and safety while the design assures full body support, comfort and ease for transferring the child on and off. “The point of our project is to promote inclusivity at a young age, by making playgrounds across the USA more accessible for special needs children.” Merkatz says. That’s why it is preferable to install the swings in already established playgrounds. “Swinging next to someone who does have a disability exposes kids at a young age to be more inclusive and used to the idea of playing all together.”
The playground where the swing is located looks out onto a beautiful view of the Long Island sound. The teenager’s grandparents who are long time Westchester County residents living in Rye donated this one. County Legislator Catherine Parker thanked the teen for her vision, her passion and commitment to diversity. “…for her to tap into the idea of inclusivity-that everybody deserves the same opportunity that you had growing up and to understand it from the perspective of a special needs child.”
Merkatz was inspired after taking an a course in adaptive engineering where she learned to create toys for special needs children and visited an all-inclusive playground in Tennessee where she attended boarding school. She was also inspired by one of her uncles who is “severely autistic” and caused her be more sensitive to the difficulties encountered by people with disabilities.
Each swing costs a little more than $400. So far, there are swings in Tennessee, South Carolina, New Jersey and New York and while she works to get at least one in every state, she hopes to see more in every locale.
Debra Quintana has been reporting for The Loop for several years. After living in Larchmont for 20 years she and her husband moved to Mamaroneck 3 years ago. Debra was a television news reporter in Texas, Florida, Colorado before moving to New York where she worked at WPIX-TV and WCBS-TV. She currently serves as the manager of The Golden Shoestring in Larchmont.