Philadelphia, June 18, 2021 – On Monday, June 21, 2021 beginning at 1:00pm, the Council Committee on People with Disabilities & Special Needs, chaired by Councilmember Derek Green (At-Large), will hear testimony during two separate hearings: one addressing the City’s general enforcement of and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and services for individuals with disabilities. The hearing will focus on the closure of the Carousel House and ADA compliance with regards to Parks & Recreation facilities. The second hearing will look at the success and importance of the Community Autism Peer Specialist program (CAPS), a peer support training program designed to help individuals on the Autism spectrum assist each other in reaching their personal wellness and community participation goals.
As we observe Disability Pride Month, the public recently learned of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation’s plans to close and eventually rebuild the famous Carousel House in Fairmount Park; the city’s only designated rec center serving individuals with disabilities and learning differences. Years of unaddressed maintenance issues and repairs due to a lack of significant capital investment have made the 34-year-old building unsafe and obsolete, according to city officials. For now, the Carousel House’s specialized programming will be transferred to other rec sites across the city in an effort to make such programs more inclusive and accessible; an issue the disability community and advocates say goes far deeper than the closing of a single facility.
News of the Carousel House closure also follows the completion of the City’s ADA Transition Plan late last year. According to its findings, only 55 city-owned facilities and public sites were ADA compliant. There are nearly 500 Parks and Rec properties and Rebuild sites citywide.
“While it’s encouraging to hear that the Carousel House will be rebuilt, we must ask ourselves why this building was the only recreation facility in Philadelphia designed for the Disability community in the first place,” said Councilmember Green. “Every individual with a physical or learning difference does not live near Fairmount Park or Belmont Avenue and therefore deserves to have access to their own ‘Carousel House’ in their own neighborhood. They should not be forced to seek other alternatives that may present even greater challenges for them.”
Accessibility and inclusivity are what lay the foundation for an individual with a physical challenge, or neurodiversity like Autism spectrum disorder, to achieve independence and meet their personal life goals while empowering them to help their peers in the process. This is the goal of the CAPS program, a collaborative program developed by The Philadelphia Autism Project, the ASERT (Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training) Collaborative Eastern Region and Philadelphia’s Community Behavioral Health (CBH), a division of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Services (DBHIDS).
The CAPS program, a 75-hour training course, has helped to close the gap for members of the Disability community in such areas as employment, education, housing and healthcare – disparities laid bare and exacerbated by COVID-19 – through lived experience and the development of specific skill sets that assist with one’s chosen area of growth like interpersonal relationships, self-care, leadership and more. To date, 20 candidates have successfully completed the program and went on to peer-train 31 individuals. CAPS graduates have gone on to career opportunities at CBH, DBHIDS and Temple University to name a few. The upcoming hearing will provide an opportunity to hear from self-advocates, field leaders and other stakeholders about the success of this program and how much further its reach can go.
Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large), a member of the Committee for People with Disabilities & Special Needs and a co-sponsor of both hearing resolutions, shared her perspective.
“This hearing is a critical step toward understanding what led to the decades of neglect and eventual closure of Carousel House; evaluating our options for how to serve the community members who relied on Carousel House for services; and identifying concrete steps that we can take to build a culture of inclusion across the city,” said Councilmember Brooks. “The closure of this site highlights the dire need to make our public facilities, especially recreation centers, accessible for people of all ages and abilities. I am grateful to Councilmember Green for his dedication to centering the voices of community members with disabilities in this hearing, in the hope that they can be equal partners in the decision-making process around these issues moving forward.”