Every child deserves to play
Have you ever wondered why you only see healthy children with no disabilities playing in the playgrounds? Well, Latisha Freemantle (aged 7) did and she asked her grandmother, ‘why’? So began a search of playgrounds. Letters were sent to the Kapi Mana and to the Mayor of Porirua. Discussions took place with the Principal of the Mahinawa Specialist School in Elsdon where there is accessible equipment like this for Differently Abled People to play on.
It was quite by chance that Adrienne Murray, Secretary of The Rotary Club of Plimmerton met Pearl, Latisha’s grandmother and the three of them teamed up recently to do a presentation to The Plimmerton Rotary Club.
Adrienne had done some research and discovered that there is a Liberty Swing (which holds a wheelchair) in Lloyd Elsmore Park in Auckland. Put there by Variety Liberty Swings, it is designed to give children in wheelchairs the opportunity to experience the exhilaration and freedom of a playground swing alongside their fully-able playmates.
A Liberty Swing is a safe, robust, hydraulic swing which allows easy access for children in wheelchairs, or simply a supported, secure seat for those who need it. The placement of Variety Liberty Swings in popular community playgrounds allows families to play as a whole and encourages the integration of able-bodied and disabled children. Partnering with forward-thinking corporations, trusts and local councils, Variety’s aim is to provide a Variety Liberty Swing in every municipality throughout New Zealand, ensuring that equal access to play equipment is available to every New Zealand child. Latisha found out that in Auckland the Variety Club is working with the Auckland City Council to develop an ‘all inclusive playground’ at Long Bay on the North Shore and that the first stage of that opened last year.
There is, in fact, one of these swings in Island Bay, the only permanently placed swing in the Wellington area. Another one, owned by Wellington City Council, can be used for special occasions but doesn’t have a permanent home yet.
Latisha and Pearl talked about what they would like to see in our local area, in particular at Aotea Lagoon Playground which is a beautiful open space but which could, nonetheless, present some challenges to disabled people
It provides a lovely environment where children can play safely but it’s almost impossible for a child in a wheelchair to negotiate the bark chips in order to reach, or even touch, some of the equipment.
Adrienne has begun to research playgrounds overseas and this is what she found. In Dothan, Alabama, for example, the local Rotary Clubs have teamed with business, Council and the community to build what they call ‘The Rotary Miracle Playground’. The children certainly look as if they’re experiencing a miracle.
In Tallahassee, Florida, a similar type of partnering has resulted in the Tom Brown Park.
Although a park of this size and complexity might be way outside our wildest dreams in Porirua City, the people who brought it together have great things to say to describe it.
‘This is not your typical playground. Here you will find children laughing and playing, running and swinging, but you will also find wheelchairs, walkers and even bigger smiles. You can see and feel the excitement, the joy and love, and the hope that one day the hesitation of children with disabilities will disappear. They have interactive reach play panels, which you can install at the ground level of your playground, to be wheelchair accessible, and with safety surfacing for endless play. Transfer decks and shallow steps improve access for kids with mobility impairments who are not limited to wheelchair access, while ramps allow children who use a wheelchair to join the fun’.
If it sounds ideal, it probably is. The community might not be able to make this happen overnight but Latisha believes that a start should be made.
Anita Baker, a Councillor of Porirua City, told the meeting what the Council is already achieving in Porirua. Pearl and Latisha were heartened to hear where accessibility has been improved and where equipment has been provided for children with different ranges of abilities.
A new park in Waitangirua is a great example of the effort that the Council has made, providing opportunities for all children. There are other parks around the city where the Council is upgrading and beginning to install equipment that is suitable for everyone. Undertaking these improvements is very expensive and will take some time. It is important that the playgrounds are within easy walking distance for many with mobility issues, and detailed planning is important.
The Rotary Club of Plimmerton supports the need for play areas suitable for all children and will be undertaking some research to find out what more can be done. Potentially this would be a very large project requiring not only the involvement of Rotary, but also the support of local businesses and the whole community.
As she stands at the entrance to a bridge across to a playground where no-one in a wheel chair could ever hope to gain access, young Latisha looks forward to the day when all children have the opportunity and equipment suitable for them to play.