· disability,advocacy,playground,special needs,playbeyondthelabel

Let's call this, Playground A.

And here is, Playground B.

What do you see that is the same in both playgrounds?

What do you see that is different in both playgrounds?

What emotions do you see and feel when you look at each of these pictures?

What do you think other people see, think, and wonder about when they play in each of these respective playgrounds?

Both playgrounds were built with the intention of bringing the community together to play and have fun, however Playground B was designed to create a standard for inclusivity by creating an imaginative and accessible space where children of all abilities can play.

Was this obvious when comparing both pictures?

In my previous post Let’s Jumpstart To #PlayBeyondTheLabel, I shared my raving reviews on Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart Inclusive Playground Project located in the Earl Bales Park in North York. It has only been two weeks into the summer, and I have to admit that my family and I have been frequent visitors at this playground. Like many special needs parents, this playground has removed many physical barriers for our child with disabilities.

For this week’s post, I’d like to share a letter I’ve written to another parent that was at this playground with me today. I don’t know her but I hope somehow, sometime, and somewhere…. my letter, my words, and my emotions will reach her one day.

Dear Other Mom,

Today I woke up with fresh eyes to a new day. After my morning routine, I packed my backpack with a towel and extra clothes because I was going to take my daughter to her favourite playground and splash pad. My son is at camp, and today is the only day of the week where my daughter didn’t have to go to her clinic for therapy. Like you, I was excited to spend some quality time with my kiddo.

Every time I come to this playground with my daughter, I attempt to introduce a new play structure to her. New things can be challenging for her, as the physical and cognitive demand is hard for her to organize. Your son saw me holding my daughter’s hand as she was going down this slide for the first time. He saw how my daughter was laughing as her legs did a funny jiggle as she slid over the cylindrical tubes.

As I held my daughter’s hand to safely get off the slide, your son quickly raced up the steps for his turn. When he sat down at the top he gestured with his hand and said, “Come sit down”. I took this opportunity to assist my daughter up the steps again, and I was thankful that he waited the extra minute for her to sit down beside him. As your son and my daughter were about to go down the slide, I saw you quickly gesture your son to come to you. Your son zipped down the slide as I was still with my daughter helping her scoot forward to attempt the slide again.

I wanted to let you know I heard you whisper to your son at that very moment. I pretended to not notice you, but I heard every word you said to him,

“Don’t play with that girl, go somewhere else to play.”

And before I swallowed what just happened, you and your son were at the other side of the playground.

I wish I said something to you. I’m still replaying what happened in my head, and trying to decide if I should have unleashed my anger at you, or tried my best to politely explain why my daughter is the way she is. Either way, I also walked away. Just like you did.

Dear Other Mom, we live with our disabilities every day. You may think this is the biggest problem but I’m going to be honest, it isn’t. I hope you learn that my daughter is not broken, and that your words did not break us. I want you to know that we deserve to be here too.

Sincerely,

Andrea

P.S. I hope one day you will wake up with fresh eyes.

Of course I was angry today.... and of course I dropped a few f-bombs under my breath. However I do believe this is also an opportunity for me to reflect upon our power and privilege. A physically accessible space definitely contributes to an inclusive environment, but this is only one small piece of the big puzzle. In order for meaningful change to happen, we need to reflect on creating a climate that is also socially and emotionally inclusive. I'm hopeful that we can build communities where everyone is open to understand one another, feel safe and supported, and are respectful and accepting of each other.

I challenge my #MomBehindTheLabel readers to think more deeply about how we uphold and perpetuate damaging systems in our communities around us, and how we can redefine what inclusion looks, sounds and feels like.

What makes us see things differently from others?

Does our identity and our personal experiences shape the way we see things and other people?

What are the visible and invisible barriers and how are they contributing to oppression?

How can we help each other shift our attitudes and mindset so that we help our communities to thrive?

Check out this short film a friend shared with me, as this is a reality for many of our children and youth who live with disabilities every day. Ian was born with cerebral palsy. All he wants is to make friends, although it seems impossible to achieve when discrimination and bullying keep him away from his beloved playground. However, this young boy is determined and won’t give up easily.

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