For this weekly feature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) profiles a noteworthy bill that is currently going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue.
Bill: House Bill (HB) 24, relating to funding for school districts to provide inclusive and accessible playgrounds.
Bill Author: Rep. Alex Dominguez, House District 37 (Brownsville)
What does the bill do?
HB 24 seeks to increase the number of inclusive and accessible playgrounds in Texas. Under the terms of the bill, the Texas Commissioner of Education would distribute funds to each school district to provide at least one playground in the district that is accessible to children with disabilities and provides an inclusive environment for all Texas students. The funding would begin in the 2021-2022 school year.
Playgrounds that are both inclusive and accessible are designed to allow children of all abilities and all developmental stages to play in the same place and use a variety of playground equipment. Though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was revised in 2010 to require that all playgrounds be designed and constructed so the equipment is accessible to children with disabilities, most existing playgrounds still do not accommodate children with cognitive disabilities or children who use mobility devices.
The benefits of accessible playgrounds go beyond simple access to fun. In many cases, accessible playgrounds provide families with a positive way to spend time together — siblings can go to the same park as their brothers or sisters, and parents with accessibility needs are able to interact with their children as they play.
Examples of inclusive playground designs include the use of rubber flooring that is easily maneuverable for children in wheelchairs and, unlike mulch, is unintrusive for children with sensory sensitivities. Swing sets with harnesses might be installed for children who lack upper body strength, and extra-wide ramps with special benches can provide an easy transfer from wheelchair to slide. Some playgrounds provide a secluded area for children with autism who may need a moment to themselves, or a slide that uses rollers instead of plastic to decrease static electricity that could interfere with a child’s hearing device.
Statement from the bill’s author, Rep. Alex Dominguez, regarding an identical bill from the 86th legislative session:
“Simply put, inclusive parks mean all children regardless of their ability, gender, age, or background should be given the same opportunities to explore, discover, and achieve during play.”
Where is the bill in the process?
On Nov. 9, 2020, HB 24 was pre-filed for the 87th regular session. Since House committee assignments have yet to be named, the bill is currently waiting to be referred.
Who supports the bill and why?
On April 23, 2019, the House Committee on Public Education held a public hearing on a bill identical to HB 24. Though no testimony was received, the following groups supported the legislation: Disability Rights Texas, the Texas State Teachers Association, Texans for Special Education Reform, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Parent to Parent, the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education, the League of Women Voters of Texas, and Down by the Border.
Who opposes the bill and why?
There was no opposition to the bill during the 2019 public hearing.
Though the following statements provided to TCDD do not comment on HB 24 specifically, they speak to the importance of inclusive and accessible playgrounds:
- Gladys Cortez, TCDD council member and chair of the Council’s Project Development Committee: “Accessible playgrounds will encourage friendships and socialization in general, that often are not possible in a structured classroom setting. Playgrounds are where fond memories are made, as it is often in playgrounds that friendships are created, yet physical structures rob some children of this. Accessible playgrounds will promote inclusion by eliminating physical barriers; break down stigmas; and no longer segregate children by encouraging that all children feel welcome.”
- Marissa Pulido-Pecina, board member of Capable Kids Foundation: “Inclusive playgrounds grant access to children, of all abilities, to their fundamental human right to play, which is essential for social, emotional, physical, speech, and language development. In addition, inclusive environments eliminate damaging biases and barriers, by facilitating a setting that allows children to grow and learn alongside one another establishing social equity from the fundamental years of development. Furthermore, inclusive playgrounds have the power to change the perceptions and stigmas of disabilities throughout communities and cultures, reducing social exclusion, while simultaneously enhancing the value of inclusion.”
Similarly, while not referring to HB 24 in particular, the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities included the following in its policy recommendations (PDF) to the 87th Texas Legislature: “Recommendation 8.1: The Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities shall promote through education and outreach existing grant funding for the installation of ‘inclusive’ playground equipment, whether by means of new construction or through retrofit of an existing playground, so that it is ADA accessible and usable by children with disabilities.”
How much will the bill cost?
In 2019, the Legislative Budget Board (PDF) found that the cost of a bill identical to HB 24 could not be determined. The board suggested that the cost of the bill could change significantly based on the number of school districts that currently have an inclusive and accessible playground, a total that was unknown at that time.
Is there a Senate companion to the bill?
No identical bill has been filed in the Senate.
For the latest information about where HB 24 is in the process, follow the bill on the Texas Legislature Online. To receive future legislative updates from TCDD, subscribe to TCDD eNews or follow us on Twitter.