Across the road from the brightly colored play areas at our local park, there is a plain wooden structure with a sign attached to it: “Barrier Free Playground, Handicap Only.” Every time we go to the park I am deeply disturbed by this sign, by this plain and secluded play area, designed for the use of children with disabilities.
This area is where my son with hemiplegic cerebral palsy (which has caused weakness on the right side of his body), first attempted to swing on the low, easy to maneuver, monkey bars. It was after we had traveled to a constraint induced therapy camp where he gained increased strength in his affected arm.
Watching him hang on the bars with both hands for a few seconds was like a miracle! This play area was where my son made up make believe games that I would play with him and in later years his sister would join in as well.
I have several fond memories of playing with my kids at this barrier free playground, but they are tinged with a sadness as well.
None of these memories involve my kids making friends or playing with peers. We’re always playing there alone, without any other kids to join in with us. Technically, even my daughter should not have played on the barrier free play area although clearly that just isn’t practical when one of my children has a disability and one does not.
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To me this is a very sad example of well-meaning people just not getting it. There are so many things wrong with this situation, the most significant being the sign that condemns children with disabilities to play alone.
In addition, the fact that the play area is secluded from the main playground, across a road on its own is another major faux pas. And of course, the fact that the playground is plain wood, while the play areas across the street are so bright, cheerful and inviting. I feel like this playground designed to be barrier free in fact creates new barriers.
This foolish sign is doing a significant disservice to both children with disabilities and those without. Kids who have disabilities, want to be able to play with their friends, most of whom do not have disabilities.
They want to be able to make new friends and socialize and have experiences mingling with peers as most kids do at the playground. Not allowing non-disabled peers to play in this area means that we are depriving children with disabilities from all those experiences.
It also means that we are depriving the children without disabilities from having experiences meeting, socializing with and becoming friends with children with disabilities. Furthermore, we are depriving kids without disabilities from learning that a child with a disability is very much like themselves in most ways; allowing them to gain respect and greater understanding of disability just by playing.
I feel very disheartened every time I see that sign and the empty play area that had so much potential for kids of all disabilities to enjoy and play together. It makes me so sad, and rather than feel sad about this situation, I have decided to do something about it. I have sent an email to the park outlining my concerns and will continue to contact them until there is a resolution to this situation!
At the very least, the sign needs to come down. A slightly better change would be to hang a new sign stating “Barrier Free Playground, Everyone Welcome!”. A better change would be that the area is redesigned, better, brighter, and on the same side of the road as the rest of the play equipment! Being able to play at the playground with your friends is a simple joy of childhood that all kids should have access to.