Take a look at our community playground…
These pictures have one common message to our family, 'You are not welcome here.'
In my last post The Eyes Of A Child, I wrote about the raw honesty of how children can look beyond visible and invisible differences. Friendships can be quite challenging for children with special needs, however I truly believe that the right physical environment can also promote positive relationships amongst children of all abilities.
Community playgrounds are a great place to foster quality play. This is where children learn to solve problems, make decisions, persevere, and interact with each other. My 6 year old son, Petie can naturally explore and play independently and with others. He can navigate across the play structures while travelling across the monkey bars, and pump his legs back and forth to get his swing to go as high as it can go. What I love watching the most at the playground is how he can start a game of tag with children he doesn’t even know. The game of tag is like an art form that is relational, interactive, and cooperative. As Petie and the other children run, slide, jump, and hide from the person who is ‘it’, they all seem to know when to take turns, reset the game, and most importantly have fun.
Then there is Bella, who not only struggles with the social components of play but she cannot access the physical space of the playground itself. The field of grass leading to the playground, the surface of sand that the playground sits on, and the outdated physical structures all say the same thing to her and our family:
Our community received some funding to renovate our park. I was very excited to hear this news as I know through my experience working in many community initiatives, money is usually the biggest barrier to accessing proper equipment and resources. I was very hopeful that this playground would be one of the first physical structures to be replaced.
This past month I found out that our community park will be renovated with a skate park, bandshell and also a splash pad. I then inquired about the playground, and found out that this 10+ year old structure will not be getting replaced or renovated. Please cue music, it's time to be ‘that parent’!
Here is my thread of conversations with our City Councillor and the City of Markham.
* To respect the community members that I am still in conversation with, I am currently choosing to keep their identities private.
HELLO COUNCILLOR & CITY OF MARKHAM,
I’d like to thank you for responding to my initial inquiry regarding the accessibility status to the playground in our community park.
As a mother of 2 children, including a 9 year old daughter with special needs it has always been a challenge ensuring that the physical spaces in the community are accessible for her. My daughter’s physical disability has her confined in a wheelchair, and I am writing this letter as a formal request to ensure that the renovated space in the community park is accessible for her and our family.
It is my understanding that Markham is committed to ensuring that all residents have full and equal access to it facilities, services, and information. According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act (AODA), it makes it possible for people with all levels of ability to participate in everything Markham has to offer. The AODA is the minimum requirements set out that organizations must follow to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility.
Now knowing that you are retaining the existing playground and only considering an accessible seat, I am now sharing my voice as a community member and tax payer to ask for the following information to be shared with our family.
The York Region Accessibility Policy identifies how York Region achieves and maintains accessibility by meeting the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 and the Integrated Accessibility Standards, Ontario Regulation 191/11. This document states the following :
Design of Public Spaces Standards: York Region will incorporate accessibility features when building new, or making planned significant alterations to existing, Region-controlled public spaces, in accordance with the Design of Public Spaces Standards.
1. How will the discussion of just an accessible seat at the playground create an accessible space for my daughter, family, and other community members living with disabilities?
2. Wheather the playground has reached its life cycle or not, how has the city ensured that this public space complies with the AODA so that it holds the same accessibility standards as the new components that will be added at the community park this fall?
3. What role has the Markham Accessibility Advisory Committee played in the development of the renovated physical space?
4. Can you provide the public documents including the physical map of the upcoming renovations to this space, as I understand the city will be building a splash pad, bandshell, and skateboard park?
5. How has the city ensured that all members of the community have shared their voice and feedback to the upcoming renovated physical space?
I hope that having this healthy conversation is the beginning of removing barriers that could stand in the way of using public buildings and outdoor facilities. I want to be reassured that your roles in the City of Markham includes respecting the needs of our diverse population by communicating in appropriate ways with community members like our family. Thank you for taking the time to address my concerns with openness, dignity and courtesy.
The City is endeavouring to make playgrounds more accessible. The community playground will be assessed at the lifecycle replacement schedule time. The Section 37 projects are separate from the lifecycle replacement program. I think it would be beneficial for the Manager of Parks, to elaborate. I would be happy to talk to you over the phone if you wish.
Thank you for your reply, I am familiar with Section 37 projects however you have not answered my questions. I will be getting in contact with the Manager of Parks, and I am also looking forward to getting my questions answered from the City of Markham.
As an elected councillor to represent the City of Markham at the regional level your role is valuable as you are part of the York Regional Council who sets policy, direction and budgets for the Regional Municipality of York.
I am requesting your role in our community to answer the questions in my email below in a timely matter.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME,
I am sorry that you didn't think I answered your questions.
I recommend that we hear from the City of Markham and I would be happy to talk to you over the phone, if you wish.
GOOD AFTERNOON ANDREA.
Our Urban Design department is currently working on Citywide Accessibility which includes parks and playgrounds. I have asked the manager leading the project to provide me with information directly relating to play equipment replacements so that we may completely answer the questions you have raised and better understand the approach the City will be following.
I will be away from the office on vacation for all of next week and will endeavor to provide a full response the week of July 16th once I have received the necessary information.
We thank-you for bringing your concerns to us and will contact you the week of the 16th.
CITY OF MARKHAM
HELLO COUNCILLOR & CITY OF MARKHAM,
Councillor, thank you for taking the time today to speak with me. Please let me know how your conversation goes with the City of Markham, I am hopeful that she will be able to help us answer the questions that I have in my original email below. If you share some possible dates/times I can make time to meet with you both in person.
City of Markham, thank you for contacting the manager leading the project. After you hear from them, I'd like to have their contact to get more information on how I can ensure that this playground is accessible, knowing that the upcoming construction to the community park will begin in the fall.
In the meantime I have been reaching out to community members in the community, and it seems to be a common thread that there is a lack of transparency with the knowledge and understanding of how the decisions have been made with what will be added to our community park. If possible, I would like to have access to the public documents to see the physical map.
Thank you for all your prompt replies. I look forward to continuing this conversation,
So in the meantime...
I want to generate some dialogue on this topic. Share on your choice of social media, your ideal playground. Use your voice and share how cities can help our communities #PlayBeyondTheLabel:
What does a welcoming, safe and accessible environment include? Describe some play equipment that makes the space more comfortable and user friendly for children and families of all ages and abilities.
How can a playground offer opportunities for children to further develop physical, cognitive, sensory and social skills? Describe how an inclusive design balances these play experiences.
What does a playground need in order to offer variability? What does the physical space need in order to comfortably challenge on skills children already have, and also help them gain new skills?
I’d like to end this post with one of Holland Bloorview’s #DearEverybody campaign posters,
I will keep all my #MomBehindTheLabel readers posted with the outcome of this journey, I look forward to hearing from you!