It’s not raining, what will we do? Go to the park of course. Our local park is the hub of village life, it’s fantastic but Lyla hates it. She will tolerate being there for approximately 5 minutes before starting to protest and when she gives up protesting she gestures to say she wants to go to sleep. The park really is amazing, it was regenerated about a year ago and Uddingston Pride, the local community group who fundraised and championed it, did such a good job designing a fun and interesting play area, it just doesn’t have anything for kids with complex disabilities to play on.
Imagine being bored in a fabulous park, except for Lyla and kids like her it’s not fabulous. Sure it’s totally wheelchair accessible, but this just means that it’s flat enough for a kid in a wheelchair to roll up and watch their friends all playing, not that there is any equipment for a kid in a wheelchair who doesn’t have the ability to transfer or hold themselves up to play on. Like many others, there is nothing for her to play on or with.
Around Scotland and N.Ireland I’ve noticed a lot of regeneration of playgrounds, a reaction possibly from local government wanting kids to be more active and to encourage them to spend more time outside playing. Gone are the rusty slides and broken swings to make way for wonderful, colourful equipment designed to encourage imaginative active play. Having spoken with our local council I found out that when they regenerate playgrounds they aim to have three pieces of ‘accessible’ equipment designed for kids with disabilities. They try to spread the types of equipment across the various parks in their local authority area. In the majority of parks these three pieces seem to have been chosen for kids with disabilities who have the upper body strength or co-ordination to hold themselves up. They maybe at wheelchair or stroller transferable height but unless your child is only affected in their lower limbs and can maintain balance this doesn’t make the equipment accessible for many kids .
Lyla’s all time favourite piece of park equipment is the accessible roundabout. She bloody loves it. It’s so simple, practically invisible. It just looks like an in ground roundabout, except the seating and metal work is designed so that a wheelchair or stroller can just roll on alongside the other kids and get pushed around. The key bit of that phrase is ‘alongside other kids’. Lyla wants to be included in play. She doesn’t want a special piece of equipment that only kids with disabilities can use. She wants to play with all her friends. This is inclusive play.
We are lucky enough to have within 15 mins drive a park which has an accessible roundabout and a mirage accessible swing both of which can be used by all kids. We know that Lyla loves a swing and this swing is supportive enough for kids who can’t hold themselves up or can’t maintain balance to sit in. (Lyla needs a harness for these swings so we have purchased a harness to keep in the car for occasions when we find one of these swings. It was £60 from HAGS-SMP). But it’s not the park close to our school, behind our main street, just 10 minutes away on foot, that all our friends and her big brother plays in.
Some might say its a question of demand, if it’s a piece of equipment which is only going to be used by one child then maybe its not really warranted. Is my child’s ability to play worth less than yours? As it is there are quite a few families locally who would make use of a mirage swing, as well as able bodied kids who would be able to use it too. You don’t always see the kids who will benefit from it most because they don’t hang out at a park where there is nothing for them to play on with their friends.
Since the park opened a year ago I have been quietly but persistently talking to Uddingston Pride and South Lanarkshire Council about installing a mirage swing in the park and now it is finally happening! It turned out not to be as simple as just purchasing the swing and installing it so the process has worked out to be more costly and time consuming than you would think. At one point I was kicking off fundraising the £3.5k needed myself with a £500 contribution from Lyla’s Angels but Uddingston Pride did a great job lobbying the council and they have agreed to fund the installation.
I can’t wait to get Lyla into the swing and to see her swinging alongside her friends. I can’t wait to come to the park and have to wait to use the swing because another child who can’t use a regular flat bed swing is enjoying it, I can’t wait to see able bodied kids using it too. I want Lyla to see that she is playing on a swing that everyone can use.
Inclusion in play parks is good for everyone, not just kids like Lyla. It means that families get used to seeing disabled kids as part of the norm, they start being more accepting and open, less apprehensive of approaching us or asking questions. I want Lyla to feel like an included, worthy participant in our community and I feel this starts with the basic right of a child to play.
I’ll let you know when the installation starts and when it’s open!
(If you would like more detailed information about the process I went through talking to the community group and the council let me know and I can write a separate post about it.)