News and opinions on disability
and inclusion

Let the children play

26/1/16 · Posted in Accessibility, Children, valuing people

Recently we were asked by media to comment on the accessibility of the recently opened Margaret Mahy playground in Christchurch.  The multimillion playground aims to draw families back into the centre of Christchurch and provide a fun and stimulating place for children to play.

That’s a laudable purpose.  Every child should have the right to play and have fun trying all sorts of activities.  And from all accounts the Margaret Mahy playground is a fun place to go.  Christchurch families are flocking there – except some families with disabled children apparently.

Parents and local advocates have raised concerns about the playground’s accessibility and when our own Barrier Free Auditor took a look, he could also see the missed design opportunities in making this playground a place for all children.  SmileDial and CCS Disability Action are now working with CERA in the hope improvements in accessibility can be made.

To me playing at the local playground is like glass milk bottles and Tip Top ice cream – integral parts of the childhood of those aged over 40.  Many of us grew up with the local playground within a short distance and met new kids there, tested ourselves and learned our limits.

Yes, I know – they weren’t accessible back then.  But today we live in a different world – one we want to be shaped for everyone.

Since the Margaret Mahy playground issue came to light; the right of all children to play alongside their peers, to share experiences, gain learning and just have fun, has been on my mind.

Cost is always a consideration when designing and building playgrounds.  But surely with access to appropriate equipment and experienced people readily available to consult, those responsible for designing and building playgrounds can do better when it comes to developing places that allow all children to play?

I hear it may not take much for CERA to turn the Margaret Mahy playground into something everyone can share and experience.  What I’ve found over the years is it often takes less money and effort to solve an issue than we think.  The concern is that this playground even became an issue – and that parents of disabled kids are throwing brick bats and not bouquets at CERA.  What a missed opportunity to evidence its commitment to an accessible Christchurch for everyone.

My message to others designing playgrounds in Aotearoa is don’t make the same mistake.  Get back to the basic principle of why we build playgrounds in the first place – so all children can play, so all families can have fun.  It’s not difficult to make this happen if you involve people who have expertise in different areas of disability (sensory, physical and intellectual).  Or more radical still – ask the kids themselves how playgrounds can work for them.

Whatever you do, get information and good advice before that first bit of dirt is turned over.

Years ago as my disabled son prepared to go to school someone asked me what I wanted for him.  I said as much as he was able I wanted him to “do” and not just “be.”  “Doing” meant he was right in this world; getting the most out of it.

Public playgrounds provide a wonderful space for all children to experience “doing” and not just “being”.   Maybe that’s why this issue has bothered me so much.  It feels like the people or person who designed this particular playground didn’t consider the frustration or hurt disabled kids would experience by “being” in such a fun and exciting place and having to sit back and watch their non-disabled peers “do” the many fun things they would love to do.

So, here’s a challenge.  In a decade’s time let’s be the “best little country in the world for accessible playgrounds.”  We Kiwis have a can do culture so I’m sure it can happen if we care enough about letting all our children have great places to play.

What do you think?

Joy Gunn
National Manager Quality, Innovation & Development
Deputy Chief Executive

One Response to “Let the children play”

  1. Roger Loveless says:

    This is a case of unintentional “institutionalised” discrimination. Was the disability sector informed that Standards NZ have recently updated NZS 5828 to conform with several overseas standards dating from 2008/9? There is also a Standard NZ document HB5828.1 2006 that allows a 300mm high wooden containmemnt barrier to allow the use of loose fill bark as a surface for playgrounds. This means carers using wheelchairs cannot access playgrounds using this type of surface when supervising their children and grandchildren.

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