Peacock Park communication board another step toward inclusion

Trish Friedlander, left, and sister Diana Friedlander pose with Gabby Danger Hudak, a former student of Trish’s. (News photo — Lauren Yates)

LAKE PLACID — Two sisters in Lake Placid are making playtime in Peacock Park more inclusive and accessible for neurodivergent children and adults.

Lake Placid natives Trish and Diana Friedlander are in the process of ordering a “communication board” to be installed this year in Peacock Park at Mirror Lake.

The communication board is aimed at people who are neurodiverse, or people who communicate and comprehend language differently than someone who’s neurotypical. Trish said that includes people with low verbal skills, people who have autism and aphasia, or people who are hearing impaired and communicate with sign language. People using the board could point to a symbol to express a need or a want to someone they’re with, like a parent.

“So it’s certain physical needs that a child might have, but it’s also fun/want kind of things,” Trish said.

The Friendlanders are ordering the board from Smarty Symbols, a Texas-based company that specializes in making communication boards that feature symbols, letters of the alphabet and numbers. The Peacock Park board will be tailored to the activities and amenities surrounding it — the Friedlanders are including symbols with mountains, a beach and a tennis court so people using the board could point out that they want to take part in one of those nearby activities.

The board is definitely designed to appeal to kids — around one in 12 kids up to age 17 are neurodiverse, Diana said — but people of all ages could use it.

The board will also be bilingual, including both English and Spanish translations of symbols. Diana said that they considered having English and French instead since Lake Placid is so close to the Canadian border, but they found that there’s a greater percentage of Spanish-speaking kids who are neurodiverse. Diana said they wanted to accommodate the Spanish-speaking people who live and work here, too.

Trish said she’s seen a local need for the communication board in her work as a speech-language pathologist with early intervention and preschool kids — kids up to 5 years old. She’s used similar tools in her work, and she thinks some of her students would use the board at Peacock Park. The board also appeals to neurotypical children, since young kids could use the board to learn the alphabet or to learn Spanish words.

The board will also have a QCR code, so people can scan the code and download the board to their phone and practice with the symbols at home or out in the community.

Trish got the idea as she walked through Peacock with Diana, who said she thought the idea was “genius.” They agreed that Trish would take care of the logistics for the board, and Diana would find a way to make it a reality.

Diana posted about the board on Facebook to get some ideas from the community about how to make the board happen, and she said a lot of people chimed in. They spoke with North Elba Town Councilor and Lake Placid Village Board Trustee Jason Leon, and they said he was a good resource with supportive perspective as an educator. They also met with the Lake Placid-North Elba appearance committee, which helped them find the location for the board — right next to the jungle gym. Between all the community support from individuals, different groups and the village board, the Friedlanders said they found an organization that’s providing full funding for the board: the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, based in Lake Placid. The village board even volunteered to install the board, they said. The Friendlanders expect the board to cost a maximum of $5,000.

“It was a really good outpouring from the community to help get it done,” Diana said.

The Friedlanders were happy to find the funding, because they want to install the board this year. They’re hoping to have it in place within around two months. If they’d waited to apply for grant funding, they said, it could have taken a lot longer.

More communication boards could be coming to Lake Placid in the future, Diana added. The Peacock Park board is what she called a “guinea pig” board. When the Friedlanders approached the village board about their idea, they said board members floated the idea that all parks in the area could benefit from having a communication board. For now, though, the Friedlanders are starting with “little steps.”

Trish said she’s excited for kids in the community to interact with the communication board. She’s especially looking forward to seeing kids she works with use the board and she’s hoping they feel validated by its presence in the park — they’ll be able to see that the way they communicate is accepted and included in daily life here.

“Hopefully this will indicate that Lake Placid is an inclusive community — inclusive of all people with different needs and different brains,” Trish said.

Diana said she thinks Trish was “destined” for speech pathology work. Diana said that when she was a kid, she had a hard time pronouncing the letters “s” and “r.” She still remembers being around 10 years old and sitting on a plane with Trish — who would have been 12 at the time — and Trish was teaching her how to say the letter “s.”

“‘Put your tongue behind your teeth!'” Diana said with a laugh as she impersonated 12-year-old Trish. “I think she was always going do this.”

Trish said that their father, Walter John Friedlander, grew up with a speech impediment. She said he was able to work through it, but she always kept his experiences in the back of her mind. He went on to serve as headmaster of Northwood School for 30 years.

Trish said she’s worked with adults in the past, but kids are really her “first love” — she adores their energy and “acceptance of everything and everybody.”

“I love children and have a passion for helping others become the best communicators that they can be, whether that is verbal or not,” she said. “I appreciate all of the differences in the students I serve and want to celebrate those differences.”

And Trish is well-loved by her students, both present and past. Diana said she was with Trish at the Songs on Mirror Lake concert this Tuesday when a former student of Trish’s spotted her and greeted her enthusiastically. The former student, Gabby Danger Hudak, gifted Trish with chocolates.

“You have to love what you do,” Trish said. “If you do, then it works.”

“All the educators deserve chocolate in the park,” Diana added.

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