By Sue Tiffin
Published Sept. 14, 2017
Recently on social media, I wrote about an experience in picking up my four-year-old daughter from daycare. When I told her friends we were going to the library, one elementary school-aged child piped up and said, “but how can you go there, there’s no ramp?”
Actually, the libraries in Haliburton County have been quite easy to access for my daughter, who uses a wheelchair. But to think about a wee kid already considering inclusion and accessibility and how the world can work for everyone was uplifting. With the chance to play with kids of all abilities – an opportunity not easily afforded to any previous generation, who grew up in the hideous days of institutionalization and segregation – how might that child’s life develop so that they are more innately understanding and aware of people?
It’s an understanding we will want from our elected officials as they move forward in building better community spaces.
All public Ontario playgrounds are required – obligated, if you will – to meet accessibility standards outlined by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by 2025. In less than a decade, the hope is that play spaces will be able to be used comfortably and safely by all people.
Some municipalities around Ontario have looked at this task as a burden, an aforementioned obligation, and an expensive challenge. But we don’t want our leaders to struggle with supporting inclusion, we want them to be visionaries who understand that we can do better.
Because we want our playgrounds and public spaces to be used by everyone. We want to remind our citizens that everyone has been considered, and everyone matters.
According to TVO, Rolf Huber of Canadian Playground Advisory Inc. has said he has often heard a recurring sentiment: “‘Why would you build an accessible playground here? There’s no kids with disabilities in our neighbourhood,’ and then [they would] notice how many more come out once an accessible playground is built.”
We want families to come out of isolation, and enjoy life together, alongside the rest of their community.
And it’s not just kids with disabilities we want to think of, but a full lifespan of people, including parents and grandparents and caregivers who are enjoying spaces with their families. Look online at how some innovative playgrounds are made so that an adult using a wheelchair can reach their child on playground equipment to play together, or help in case of injury.
What else can we do? We can focus on people rather than standards. For regulation, it’s important to have a sort of ‘to do’ list of basic needs to be met, but how do those standards translate for people with disabilities? In theory, wood chips are accessibility-certified, but one look at a parent trying to push a stroller through them, or help their toddler balance on them will suggest they might not be the most logical option. Are we just thinking of people with mobility challenges, or are we also considering people who are blind or have low vision, who are deaf or hard of hearing? Do our playground slides impact hearing impaired children or their caregivers, whose cochlear implants can be damaged by the shock of static electricity? Do we think accessibility at a playground simply means a ramp? Because we can get a ramp at the dentist’s office – and don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, but it’s not playground fun.
Accessibility can’t be about meeting basic standards. It must focus on creating a world for everyone out of a world that has not been made for everyone.
Last week, Algonquin Highlands council, in choosing new, accessible equipment for Stanhope playground, opted for the playground that didn’t just have accessible options and check the boxes, but promoted inclusion – equipment that could be used by all kids, together. The playground, worth more than $60,000, will be paid for largely by a federal government grant and will be a space where, for instance, my daughter in her wheelchair can play on a teeter totter with her brother.
A cartoon shows a custodian at a school shovelling snow from stairs while students look on. A person in a wheelchair asks, ‘could you please shovel the ramp?’ The custodian responds, “All these other kids are waiting to use the stairs. When I get through shovelling them off, then I will clear the ramp for you.” The person in the wheelchair responds, “But if you shovel the ramp, we can all get in!”
It’s time to think differently than we might have been taught, for the benefit of our community.