A playground for all
Every part can be enjoyed by someone using a wheelchair — and advocates say it’s set a new bar for accessibility
A new playground is raising the bar for accessibility in Calgary, advocates say.
Northwest Commons Park in the developing University District is home to Alberta’s first Playcore National Demonstration Site, a playground designed so every component is accessible by wheelchair.
“It’s in a perfect location,” said Emily Jackson, whose 8year-old daughter Piper has cerebral palsy.
Jackson said she travels around the city looking for playgrounds that both her daughters can enjoy.
“The big thing for us when it comes to a playground is being able to have Piper occupied and playing while her sister is also playing at the same time, so we can go together and she doesn’t just have to sit there in her chair.”
The playground has rubber surfaces made from recycled car tires, and ramps that allow people with mobility issues to get around the entire playground.
Features include monkey bars, roller slides, a climbing apparatus with wide-ramp access, and a swinging “Rock N Raft” pirate ship that accommodates wheelchairs.
Ground-level play features include a cognitive learning area with bright colours and sensory gadgets for people with visual and hearing impairments, allowing kids of all learning levels and abilities to interact.
Darby Young, owner of Level Playing Field — an accessibility agency that helped design the park — said other accessible playgrounds in Calgary don’t have the same level of detail or amount of play items catering to kids with a wide range of disabilities.
“We wanted to strive to make it the most inclusive playground in the city of Calgary, one that everybody could strive to try and match as they move forward,” she said, adding at least one other major developer working on south Calgary has
reached out to Level Playing Field since.
The park quietly opened on Oct. 20, but a grand opening date will be set for the near future.
Calgary Cerebral Palsy Association executive director Sheralee Stelter said she has not seen anything like the Northwest Commons Park in Calgary before and it’s something the city “really needs.”
“As a parent, we just find it so hard to find something that all of our kids, including those ones in wheelchairs, can do and a place where they can play,” she said. “I think it’s really exciting for our family and the city that we’ve got this playground.”
Calgary has other playgrounds with accessible elements, including one at the nearby Alberta Children’s Hospital, and one in Riley Park.
Taylored Accessibility owner Ron Taylor said Northwest Commons is a step up from the existing spaces in its level of accessibility, and he hopes it sets a “new benchmark” for inclusive playgrounds in Calgary.
In addition to making kids with disabilities feel included, Taylor hopes the move toward accessibility will also change attitudes among kids who don’t have disabilities.
“We’re including children now in the social hub of childhood. And by doing this, we’re also making it inclusive. We’ve built playgrounds for years that have not been inclusive and kids never gave it a second thought. I think as adults we’ve been teaching our kids that it’s OK to exclude,” Taylor said.
“Now we’ve got these inclusive playgrounds, kids learn from a very young age that everyone is included. And I think sending that message is necessary at a young age, and we’re hopefully going to create a new generation that will look at inclusion as the norm.”
Taylor, whose agency is dedicated to breaking down barriers, said accessible playgrounds also make it easier for grandparents to play with their kids, which is something developer Travis Oberg had in mind while designing the park.
Oberg, the senior development manager with West Campus Development Trust, which is in charge of the University District, said his demographic research showed older residents moving into the neighbourhood wanted to have a place to go with their grandkids when they visit.
“One of the things that we’ve heard from them is, whether it’s in an emptynester situation or a retiree, they wanted to have access for their grandchildren to go to spaces (where) they can interact with them and play with them,” Oberg said.
The park area surrounding the play structure also has a ping-pong table and a giant chess board.
The neighbourhood is still mostly under construction.
Oberg said the University District will have 150 to 200 residents by the end of the year, and will eventually fill out 700 units with 11,000 to 15,000 people.
The Playcore National Demonstration Site is being called the most inclusive playground in Calgary. It was built to be inclusive for all ages and abilities.
Emily Jackson’s daughter Piper often uses a wheelchair, but she can play alongside her sister at Calgary’s first fully accessible playground.
It’s hoped the playground sends an important message and will help create a new generation that will look at inclusion as the norm. It opened on Oct. 20.