From the very start, David Weingarten knew that Let All The Children Play (LATCP) was a leader. The Oceanside, New York resident had been involved with disabled rights and integration advocacy ever since his son, Adam, was born with Down Syndrome in 1985. Visible inclusion of any kind for non-typical kids was few and far between. Together with other parents and advocates within the school system, Weingarten was able to ensure that his son received an education alongside Regular-Ed kids—but despite the substantial gains made in those years, the goal of widespread integration remained a hard one to reach. Inspired by his son and the issues raised by those in the disability arena, Weingarten eventually left his corporate background to be a full-time advocate for families navigating the tricky worlds of disability finance and state support. But LATCP’s mission resonated in a way that Weingarten could not ignore.
“I always had trouble attending activities not only with my son, but with my son and typical daughter together,” Weingarten said. After learning about LATCP’s early success in establishing an inclusive playground in Ra’anana, Israel in 2005, Weingarten recognized the group’s potential and spoke out in support, an effort which culminated in the construction of the LATCP playground in Eisenhower Park.
Today, Adam has found a firm place in the community, singing karaoke at the local country club and talking pop music with lifeguards at the beach. But Weingarten stresses that such acceptance does not arise out of a vacuum. “One of the most important things is by promoting play together, we are breaking down the prototypes of individuals with special needs.” Although Adam now lives in a group home with several other non-typical adults, his behavioral problems require both constant attention from his parents and empathy and understanding from less familiar individuals.
“Our mission of teaching children while their young, its with hopes that society remains sensitive and also supportive to individual’s needs.” After all it is these children, Weingarten points out, who will grow up to make the policy decisions that determine the fates of their non-typical peers—fates that now lie in the balance as looming cuts to governmental programs like Medicaid threaten already resource-strapped programs.
Though inclusion has improved drastically since his son’s childhood in the late eighties, Weingarten asserts that many, many challenges remain: “Employment is not great. Transportation is not great. And there are thousands of individuals on some sort of waitlist for some sort if living situation where they’re not living with their parents and sitting on the couch.”
the breathing room of an integrated, appropriate environment, Weingarten says, can make all the difference to parents and caregivers. “For parents of children with disabilities, the advocacy for their child, never, never ends—We don’t get many breaks.” The programs and playgrounds LATCP provides, however, “lets parents chill out for 15 min in an accessible space.”
“By promoting play, we promote inclusion, by promoting inclusion we promote so many things. It took us 5 years to have playground built; I never expected the feedback we got to be so positive. We have affected hundreds upon thousands of children in Nassau County by building this playground.”