All children deserve a safe and accessible place to play, and one might think a playground is one of them. With only three out of 84 parks in Guelph having accessible features, options are few and far between.
That's what upsets Erin Caton, a member of the city's Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) and chair of the Environmental Sensitivities Coalition of Canada, about recently release design options for five city parks – none of them are accessible, she says.
In response, she set up a petition online for people to sign to increase accessible playgrounds in Guelph.
“Every kid, regardless of their ability, can play on an accessible place. It doesn’t stop anybody else from being able to play on it,” said Caton, stressing she spoke to GuelphToday as an individual and not on behalf of the committee.
Part of what makes playgrounds inaccessible is the use of wood chips on the ground surface, she explained. It’s difficult for a wheelchair to maneuver over wood chips.
Caton suggests a rubber surface instead and wants the playgrounds to go one step further by including accessible toys and areas for children to play. An example being a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round.
“As a wheelchair-user, I can’t get through wood chips, I can’t get through sand, I can’t get through gravel,” said Lorelei Root, AAC chair, who also noted she's not speaking on behalf of the committee regarding the proposed playground designs but rather generally about accessibility issues.
“One thing that’s really common in the disabled community is medications for different chronic illnesses can cause sunlight sensitivities and heat sensitivities,” said Root, who called for shaded areas to be included in park design.
The City of Guelph put out a survey for people to vote on which playground design they liked the best for five replacement playgrounds.
“It seems like in this case they (the city) have gone with public engagement and are making decisions before getting the AAC engagement,” Root said.
She suggested the city change the survey feedback form so people could provide comments on the designs.
“It would be really great to bring the AAC in as early as possible on issues like this because we have good feedback. There’s no use in paying people to design a bunch of parks that aren’t accessible before talking to us about it.” City officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
City parks with accessible features include Riverside Park, Eastview Park and Dragonfly Park, which each have level, colour contrasting surface ground which is helpful for people who use wheelchairs and those who are blind or with low vision.