This post was written by student Cheryl Saccardo.
Playgrounds provide opportunities for children to play in a diverse, safe environment along with allowing them to grow to create and pretend while interacting with their peers. Playgrounds are meant to provide children an exciting, diverse environment to play. Authors; Yantz, Young, & Mckeever (2010) maintain “by providing children the opportunity to play together is an important step in redressing discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion, inclusive play spaces help to promote and create an inclusive community” (pg.76). The purpose and goal of my community project are to create an accessible play environment that meets the needs both of the children disabilities who attend the school and everyone within the community. My paper focused my narrative, of my journeys as I worked on two projects one being changing the existing playground in making it accessible to everyone within the community. The second project is participating and working with school committees and stakeholders in designing and creating an accessible outdoor play space in the school’s courtyard. My motivation: As an Educational Assistant I am required to supervise the students I support outside during their morning, lunch and afternoon recesses. However during this time, I often see the students isolated playing on their devices because there is no equipment or other students to play and or socialize with. The students sit in their wheelchairs alone watching the other children play soccer on a field that is not accessible or safe for them to maneuver their wheelchairs, children building castles, holes, imagining that they are going to China or in the sandbox that has borders that allow able-bodied children in and children in wheelchairs out. I see children playing on the playscapes that has slides and or fireman poles, but no ramps for children in wheelchairs and opportunities to explore, imagine or play.
Children with disabilities are often marginalized and excluded on school playgrounds often because their abilities are unappreciated. I believe one of the effective ways to encourage such a change is to provide opportunities for them to self-advocate and be included in the decision-making process by providing the tools and resources necessary to express their wants and needs.
I held a learning circle including the children I support to provide them a means to express what they felt about the school playground. The students expressed they felt isolated, frustrated, mad, unvalued and sad. Expressed the basketball nets were too high and were afraid of getting hit in the head by a ball. They wanted to play in the sand with their peers, however because the sandbox is sunken in the ground, has high borders, and not entirely accessible, the students with physical disabilities are unable to gain access to the sandbox. In other instances, students were unsure of what to do when they wanted to play soccer because they felt they couldn’t ask their friends to stay with them to play. They didn’t want to prevent their peers from doing things they were able to do such as playing in the sandbox, practicing gymnastics on the grass or playing on the playscape. It also assisted in deciding what equipment the children felt was missing from the playground. The students shared that the most accessible equipment such as an elevated sand table and adjustable basketball net to accommodate their wheelchairs would be beneficial. The students expressed they felt comfortable playing with other students in the Intensive Support Program because they didn’t feel they would be judged. They didn’t want to leave other students alone without anyone to play with and because sometimes other students didn’t understand them or have the patience to wait for them to respond whether it is throwing the ball or responding to a question. I have also found that because of differing maturity levels from that of their grade peers they do not have much in common. For instance; one student is 14 years old, and her favourite television shows are not age or maturity appropriate for younger children. The other children watch television shows that contain content that some other students do not understand or watch. Having an opportunity to engage in a circle dialogue with the students, allowed me to hear the accounts first- the hand of the students’ experiences firsthand. It also allowed the students to express their feelings and suggestions regarding what they want and need to be changed, so they feel more comfortable and inclusive with their peers. How those changes and express can be included in the design stage of the Courtyard Revitalization Project is vital and allowed the student an opportunity for them to feel comfortable in a situation and which other students may have felt the same way.
I did not include children in the photographs that illustrate barriers children with disabilities face on the playgrounds. I wanted the main focus to be on the barrier not on the child.
I was able to gain funding from the parent council and the principal to purchase an elevated sand table, as well as an adjustable basketball goal. It has been very exciting for both the students and I; the elevated sand table is in the process of being installed. The children love playing with the adjustable basketball goal. The students with the class I support are beginning to enjoy the school playground and are beginning to feel included within the of the school community. Currently, I am still an active member of the in the school Playground Revitalization Project steering committee. The revitalization project is going well. We have created our designs and are in the process of working with the board in finalizing our design and develop strategies on how to gain extra funding. Although this began as my DST 99 final project, I am in the long haul!!