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Playgrounds should be accessible for all children

When Lucy, my daughter, was younger, I took her to parks in our local town. What I discovered was playgrounds and play equipment were not accessible for children who used wheelchairs.

What followed were feelings of isolation and unfairness. It was unfair that my child could not properly experience the joy of a playground, something which should be accessible for every child.

Why playgrounds are important for both parent and child

Playgrounds are places where kids meet other kids and learn to play and communicate, share and negotiate, and just be in the moment.

They’re also places parents meet up with friends or make new ones. I wanted that desperately

I hadn't yet met any other mums of disabled children and I felt very isolated. Despite living in quite a big town, there really wasn't much for mums like me, or children like Lucy.

A day in my life visiting an inaccessible playground

I’d often plan a nice day out with Lucy, taking her to parks we haven't been to before. This is a day in Lucy’s and my life when visiting a playground.

I check the website of a local park before our visit. There's a pond, a cafe, an accessible loo and a nice large play area. There aren't any photos of the play area, but I figure there will be something for Lucy to play on.

When we arrive, I have to push Lucy’s wheelchair over bumpy grass to get to the entrance of the fenced off playground.

The gate into the playground is heavy and difficult for me to hold open and get the wheelchair through at the same time.

The floor surface turns into sand and the wheels of the wheelchair get stuck. I have to pull Lucy in her wheelchair through this deep sand into the playground and then survey the scene. What can we go on?

Around us are children running, squealing in delight, jumping on play equipment.

There are climbing frames, a hill with a slide - which I wonder if we can get up but decide we can't. An assortment of swings. A vast sand pit - with a raised wooden wall around it, restricting our access.

None of them are accessible.

A smiling girl on an accessible swing in a playground

I notice the awkward looks and felt left out

By now Lucy is getting agitated, she can see the other children having fun and she quite rightly wants to join in.

I've spotted the other mums looking awkwardly at me, talking amongst themselves and giving me a wide berth. I want to turn and flee from the playground but for Lucy’s sake, I don’t.

I pick a baby swing and make a beeline for it, tugging the wheelchair over bumpy ground. In the moments it's taken me to get to the swing, another parent decided their child should go next. I swear they weren't there a moment ago.

At last, it’s our turn. I struggle with Lucy’s bendy, overly long legs. I wriggle them into the holes of the baby swing.

Lucy is probably a couple of years too old for this, but as she is slight, she just about fits.

Her low tone means she would fall off the swings without backs on them, and everything else in the playground requires working legs to get on it.

For a brief time Lucy was happy.

We have our moment in the sun. For a brief time, Lucy is happy and adds her squeals of excitement to the sounds of other children in the playground, enjoying a 'normal' childhood.

Then the time comes for the removal from the swing seat. I struggle to lift Lucy above my centre of gravity (she’s three stone) and into her wheelchair.

Inevitably a foot gets stuck just as we think we’ve cleared the seat, and a shoe pings off - adding to the side show we’ve created.

A few looks of pity and annoyance from nearby parents, presumably that we’re even in the playground, and you know those swing seats are meant for babies.

I stood out like a sore thumb and despite being engrossed with my child and her happiness, I never got approached by another parent.

Oddly, their children would gravitate towards Lucy and I, and play with us for a while. It seemed they weren't bothered by her disability or difference.

I leave the playground with Lucy, disappointed she didn't get to go on anything else. My back screaming in pain, I’m fighting back the tears of unfairness and feeling of isolation. We never go back to that playground.

No parent or child should feel excluded from playgrounds

Years later, I tried to work with the council to improve that playground. They installed a Changing Place toilet, but would not change the playground to make it accessible.

I also took Lucy to a playground in Faversham and later worked with that council. They received a lottery grant to install inclusive play equipment. This was too late for us by then, Lucy was older, and we had moved away.

I wish no other mum in my position would have to play out what we did. As the mum of a disabled child, I support the ‘Let’s Play Fair’ campaign

Demand the government gives every child an equal chance to play.

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