Friday, August 2, 2019

Inclusion Matters

Summer is in full swing, and playgrounds all across the country are bustling with energetic youngsters, happy to have been released from the confines of classrooms and formal learning environments. These spaces are filled with endless possibilities for curious young minds and active explorers, but not all kids can play alike. Those with physical disabilities must often navigate a playground terrain not built with them in mind, leaving them with limited opportunities for exercise, socialization and outdoor play.

As a parent of a child with a disability, I am all too familiar with the feeling of despair when we find ourselves at a play space that is not accessible. Fortunately, we have come a long way over the past few years and public playgrounds are becoming more and more inclusive.

I wrote previously about our experience at our local Easter Seals playground (see HERE), and how life-changing it can be when all children are included.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jane Park Woo, Director of Too Small to Fail and Tiffany Harris, of Shane's Inspiration. Both Jane and Tiffany were featured on a panel that was hosted by UNICEF at the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities back in June. Together, they are building accessible and literacy-rich playground environments for children, and we discussed how this work fits into the bigger conversation of early childhood development – particularly for children with disabilities. Their vision is to foster a bias-free world for children with disabilities, creating inclusive playgrounds and educational programs around the world that unite children of all abilities, and I am on board with that.

Knowing the value of outdoor play, I was thrilled to learn that Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities plans to build a universally accessible playground in Mundy Pond Park, right here in our province. The playground structure will be a gift from Jumpstart to the City of St. John’s as part of the charity’s Inclusive Play Project, which focuses on removing accessibility barriers to sport and recreation.

Jumpstart is pleased to partner with the City of St. John’s to provide an innovative, inclusive play space for this community,” said Scott Fraser, President, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities. “The Jumpstart Playground will allow more people to enjoy Mundy Pond Park by giving kids of all abilities the opportunity to play outside together.

I am hopeful that this new playground will consider the needs of all individuals and will include equipment that can be accessed by wheelchair-users, without having to transfer out of their chair. This is a huge issue for our family. All too often, we have had the unfortunate experience of feeling the excitement of learning that a space or activity is accessible, only to find out that my child is "too disabled" to participate.

Guess what, guys? "Too disabled" is not a thing.

ALL children deserve the opportunity to take part in recreation and to develop to their fullest potential. When children are denied the opportunity to play and socialize with their peers, they are denied the chance to develop skills that will benefit them forever. Sometimes it is people's attitudes and perceptions of disability that create barriers. More often, it is not people but the environment that is the cause of exclusion, and that is not acceptable.

There are some beautiful examples of accessible and inclusive playground equipment out there. These next few photos were taken recently at the Janeway St. John's Maple Leafs Therapeutic Play Garden.

We look forward to the development of our local Jumpstart playground. There are some big plans for that area, and I am excited about the potential of a truly universally designed play space. Jumpstart's vision is to create a Canada where all kids have access to play. They state that their "goal is to ensure that these playgrounds become the standard for inclusivity by creating imaginative and accessible spaces where children of all abilities can share in the magic of play." I like the sound of that.

There is still time to contribute your ideas about the proposed playground. Email to join the conversation!

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