This repost is part of our Summer Slowdown revisiting of the blog archives, and was originally published on 17th June, 2008.
I’m lucky. I live in a place where there are playgrounds everywhere. There are two within a very short walk from our place, and probably half a dozen or more within five minutes’ drive, including a very large and pleasant park, the “flagship” park of the area.
But every single one of these playgrounds has accessibility issues. I think we’re running zero for zero in terms of reasonable accessibility for kids with disabilities. That’s a huge issue; but in this post I’m talking about parents.
The most noticeable issue for me is walk distance and seating. Flagship Park is a lovely spot for my kid, but I have to park the car a long schlep from the playground area. The closest parking area to the playground is up a steep hill. The parking with the flatter walk is a good 250 m away from the play area. Choosing whether I exhaust myself on a slope or on the flat isn’t much of a choice.
And seating is crap. Why are there almost never shaded seats close to, and facing, a playground for young children? Public seating is usually hideously uncomfortable – but why does it have to be? Benches don’t have arms to help people with arthritis or muscle weakness get back up independently. Seating is placed in full sun or only in part shade, so photosensitive people are out of luck. And this is if there is seating at all – many playgrounds have no seating, or have one bench far away from the playground and pointing in the wrong direction.
Flagship Park is the only playground I can think of that has a paved path to and around the playground.
However, even that access pathway is only to the edge of the playground – the playground itself is deep soft sand, so if a child needs immediate physical attention, a person who uses a wheelchair (or other walking aid) isn’t going to be able to get in. Other playgrounds have no paved access at all.
Fencing is another accessibility issue. When you have a slow-moving parent and a fast-moving toddler, a well-fenced playground is a wonderful thing, removing the need to hover over the child. As a handy side effect, it also keeps unleashed dogs out.
Accessibility to playground equipment is slightly complicated to upgrade. One option for actual playground access could be to use high quality rubber surfaces instead of sand. And it has the pluses of not concealing broken glass, shit, or discarded syringes. On the downside, latex-allergic people can’t use them. Are there any better solutions?
But the parking and pathways and seating? This is a piece of cake. This is public design 101. It should be something that is an essential part of building new playgrounds and of upgrading existing ones.
But no one is bothering. People with disabilities are supposed to be the passive “cared-for”, not active carers. Parents are supposed to be “yummy mummies” and “footy dads”, throwing their kids around in an Omo commercial. People with disabilities are supposed to be passive recipients of ostentatious sympathy, or supercrips who “overcome” their “challenges”. Parents with mundane disabilities disrupt that script – so we ignore them, and hope that they’ll disappear. Sadly, many have no choice but to do so.