St. Francis De Sales School for the Deaf Models Inclusivity With New Accessible Playground Makes Strides

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By Jessica Easthope

The sounds of a playground are unmistakable.

Even though the children playing hear nothing but silence, at St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf in Crown Heights, recess is access.

“It’s beautiful because you’ll see children in wheelchairs, children with canes,” said Jodi Falk, executive director at St. Francis de Sales. “You’ll see sign language. You’ll see picture exchange, communication books, and iPads, all the multiple ways that our students communicate.”

This playground, which opened this spring, took five years of work, research, and compassion to get off the ground.

Falk said it’s made of soft bouncy material suited for all types of walkers and rollers.

“One of our core values is independence,” Falk said. “Whether you’re in a wheelchair, you’re a walker, or you are deaf, blind, everything is accessible to the students to go independently.”

The structure, which was partly funded by the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation grant, has features for every St. Francis student – deaf, deaf-blind, and deaf-disabled.

Dawn Welters, supervisor of instruction and operations at St. Francis de Sales, said she wishes she had this when she was a kid.

“They don’t have any barriers, and they can do whatever they want,” Welters said. “And that’s something I want for all deaf children, all deaf-blind children, and deaf-disabled children. All barriers are broken down here.”

But for the kids who do play here, they enjoy it, in some cases, more than they could ever express.

“I like the swings, yeah, I like the swings the most. So that’s fun,” said Wilber Sandoval, a student at St. Francis de Sales. “And the playground makes me feel good. And I’m smiling. And I have lots of fun there.”

“I like the playground. And I like the merry-go-round. That’s my favorite one,” said Zaira Ramroop, a student at St. Francis de Sales. “Yeah. I love playing with my friends on the playground.”

Not only was St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf intentional about the design of the playground, they were intentional about the color for students who are also visually impaired. One area colored in blue and yellow signifies a place to play, while another area colored in red signifies a place to walk.

“It’s been part of the strategic vision of the school to become state of the art,” Falk said.

It’s still a climb to get to true, universal inclusivity, but St. Francis de Sales covers new ground every day.

“I do have hope for what the world looks like in the future,” Welters said. “The students can start the work, and they become advocates themselves. And that’s the kind of environment we have here. So, yeah, Saint Francis would be very proud of the development and relationships established here.”

“We are a safe haven for the students and their families,” Falk said. “And we are a model for what it should be.”

In addition to the new playground, St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf has also created a very real way to teach independence.

This is Activities of Daily Living – a mock apartment where students can learn how to complete basic household tasks like washing clothes, making a bed, and using a TV.

Before students use the brand new space, they will set goals and work toward them with their therapists in an effort to create lifelong skills that will allow them to live more balanced and independent lives.

If you want to help St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf on their mission of inclusivity, you can donate at