An Opportunity Blooms: Pittsburgh’s First ADA-Accessible Community Flower Garden Opens

May 22, 2018

Kim Blicha, a certified occupational therapist assistant, poses for a photo with Alexa Canciello, a student at The Day School at The Children’s Institute, during a recent visit to an ADA-accessible garden bed that the Day School students will help to maintain.
Credit The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh

Gardening is a satisfying hobby for many who have green thumbs, but for people with physical disabilities or other limitations, it can be an intimidating or impossible activity.

However, a new flower garden offers a more inclusive experience. Pittsburgh has its first flower garden compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It's the result of a passion project by a group that hopes to bring the joy of horticulture to everyone.

A grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District enabled the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to build the garden this spring. It’s an addition to one that already existed at the First United Methodist Church in Shadyside.

Art DeMeo, director of community green space services for the conservancy, said the garden had been at this location since 1996 and is one of 130 community gardens the conservancy has had a hand in creating in western Pennsylvania.

The accessible addition features the wheelchair-accessible aisles and raised beds necessary for someone using a wheelchair to access the soil. DeMeo said that he hopes to continue adding these spaces to gardens that already exist.

“Everybody should have a chance to get out and get their hands dirty and be a part of making their community a better place,” said DeMeo.

Jacob Hernishin, a student at The Day School at The Children’s Institute, uses adaptive gardening tools to dig into the dirt while The Children’s Institute President/CEO Wendy Pardee plants flowers at an ADA-accessible garden bed.
Credit The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh

One group already taking advantage of the new garden is the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh. Lisa Paglia with the institute says gardening skills had been a focus for students ages 16 to 21, but due to a lack of resources, the gardens where her students were learning were not ADA-accessible. Paglia says her students have since become primary stewards of the new accessible addition to the First United Methodist church’s garden. She said the students have been weeding the beds and will plant perennials this week.

Paglia said the gardens will enhance the Children’s Institute’s nature curriculum which works to develop skills while also providing physical and occupational therapy for students.  

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has provided ADA-accessible tools like shovels and rakes with extended handles for the students and church members interested in taking advantage of the garden.

Anyone interested in making use of the space should get in touch with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy at www.waterandlife.org.