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

StarMetro Calgary - - FRONT PAGE - KEVIN MAIMANN

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.

LEIGH ANNE HAZ­ARD PHOTO

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.

CHRISTINA RYAN/STARMETRO CAL­GARY

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.

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