The U.S. Paralympic Team Trials just wrapped up in Minneapolis and as passionate as she is about the games, Jill Moore wasn't here to watch. Moore, who has competed in the Parapan American Games in Toronto and the World Games in Doha, Qatar, was off on a head-spinning travel itinerary as inclusive play specialist for Delano, Minn.-based playground manufacturer Landscape Structures. Moore's mission: To make sure every child on every playground gets to have fun. Moore was born with spina bifida and is a full-time wheelchair user. She also swims, plays basketball, skis and has completed 12 marathons. She talks about her upbringing, the power of play and a few weird travel experiences.
Q: What does an inclusive play specialist do?
A: Play! At times, designers without a disability make assumptions and you end up with products that don't benefit the people they were designed for. I talk to communities about what makes for an inclusive play space, figuring out how to invite people in, and not just people in mobility devices, but those with other differences such as autism. The best thing we can do is provide a variety of options and thoughtful designs, especially for kids who need the additional sensory experience.
Q: Tell us about your June travels.
A: I started in Georgia, where the city of LaGrange is working hard to create a Miracle League field with an inclusive playground alongside of it. From there, I flew to Rochester, N.Y., to participate in a community build to create an inclusive pocket park. The effort was started by a girl named Santii who, at 4 years old, wondered why a little girl in a wheelchair was unable to play with her. She sold lemonade and raised $10,000 toward an inclusive park and we got to partner with her and the town of Greece to create an amazing space for all. After that, I headed to a superintendents conference in South Carolina to speak on why inclusion is so important in playground planning, especially for kids in school.
Q: How easy is it for you to fly?
A: When you have an educated flight crew, it's pretty smooth. But it's lots of stuff people don't think about, like getting a tinier chair to get me onto the plane. And sometimes flight attendants say and do really weird stuff. A lady actually grabbed my waist to push me up a jet bridge while screaming "Choo-choo!" (which no one needs to do at 8 a.m.). There are a lot of eye roll moments but also a lot of moments to educate and those matter. And there are also the moments your chair gets left out in the rain on the tarmac.
Q: You were born with spina bifida into a family with progressive thinking about what you were capable of. What do you remember?
A: My parents were, and are, super progressive and did a great job of working with me and my doctors to offer an alternative to the medical model, which was that a person's disability is the problem, instead of the environment they're in. We're slowly beginning to adopt the social model; that we can create better environments for people with disabilities. At 6, as an example, my parents started strapping me onto my dad's bicycle for their 150-mile trips from Charlotte, N.C., to Myrtle Beach over two days. Eventually, he bought a tandem bike so I could help him pedal. Once I got a wheelchair, I could move, keep up with my friends, go faster.
Q: Along with improving playgrounds, you'd like to improve catheters?
A: As I mentioned earlier, I hate products that look like they're designed for people with disabilities by people who don't use them. Catheters came out of a hospital setting and never left. They're in insanely brightly colored packaging. You can see everything in there and people are sometimes very ashamed of them and it leads to really unhealthy habits, such as putting used catheters back into a purse so it won't be seen in a garbage can. Or they're too big to fit comfortably in a purse or bag and it's hard to bring enough so people run out and end up reusing them. It's probably way more than you wanted to know about catheters, but I truly believe a user could make a huge impact on safe habits if people with disabilities were brought into that conversation!
Q: When did you first learn about the Paralympics? Did you see yourself there immediately?
A: When I first heard about wheelchair sports, I didn't want to go. In my head, I guess I was still focused on the idea of being "normal." I kind of fell in love with it, though, when I saw this whole community of people who are really happy and celebrating that. I got the Paralympic itch when I played in one basketball game in 2003 and realized I was really competitive. That gave me that push. I have something I can reach toward — finally.
Q: Do you think there will ever be a day when there are just the Olympics and not para and other? Must we distinguish?
A: I don't think it will ever or needs to ever be integrated. Realistically speaking, a man (or woman) racing the 5,000 meters in a wheelchair is going to race a much faster race than a man (or woman) running. Same for the marathon. But I'd love to see them placed on the same pedestal. This year's, Team USA's Show The World paralympics campaign (teamusa.org/show-the-world) got an unprecedented amount of coverage. I actually cried watching it with my family. I never thought I'd see the day.