If you’re like me, you follow a lot of national Down syndrome and advocacy organizations. It’s so great when we see efforts to promote a more inclusive environment for children of differing abilities across the country and the world. Too often though, I think we forget to advocate for inclusion in our own back yards; at least, I do. It’s easy to forget that we too have a community that probably needs to be reminded to include those of differing abilities. We spend so much time focusing on the big picture, we sometimes forget each individual piece. So when my local community released the plans for new playground equipment that is not accessible, I refocused my attention on my community. I was hesitant to get involved at first because I hate being, “that person,” but the more I thought about my daughter’s future, the more I knew I had to advocate for her now, so she can see a more inclusive future.
You see, for those who don’t know, my daughter walks with a gait trainer. It is a piece of equipment that looks like a walker, just miniature. My daughter doesn’t walk much right now, but she will, and when she does, she will need her gait trainer for an unknown amount of time, maybe years. So, if a park does not have wheelchair ramps, she is not able to use her gait trainer, which means when she starts walking more independently, she will not be able to play on inaccessible playgrounds without my help. If you’ve ever met a toddler, you know that once they get a taste of independence, they don’t want any amount of help anymore. So, my daughter will either not be able to play on inaccessible parks at all, or she will have to give up her independence and accept my help.
I try to not be the type of person who looks for discrimination around every corner. I keep in mind that many people, if not most, don’t have someone close to them who has different abilities. Ignorance is understandable in certain cases. Before Hannah, my daughter, was born, I would have never thought a thing about a park not being inclusive. It’s not that I was being discriminatory on purpose, or that I didn’t care about those with different abilities, it just wasn’t something I thought about in my everyday life. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and understand they are probably just like I was before Hannah was born. So when I found out that our Mayor and city council had been made aware that the playground equipment they had chosen was not accessible and that accessible equipment was something some in the community desired, I was disappointed. Ignorance was not at play in their decision making, discrimination was.
Some may think I’m being harsh, but let me ask you a question; what does it say to my daughter, and others with differing abilities that they have chosen to not provide equipment she can play on independently? How will it make her an others feel to have to sit on the sidelines watching their siblings play independently? Of course, we can always drive out of town to go to a different, inclusive park, but should we have to do that? I am not advocating for every single park to tear down their non-inclusive equipment and rebuild. What I am advocating for is when parks are already planning on replacing old equipment, that they keep all of their citizens in mind, not just the majority. If children with different abilities can play on the playground, typical children can as well. It’s a win for everyone, and one more step toward a more inclusive society.
Here in my village, the playground equipment is supposed to be installed within the next several weeks, so in the mean time, I am doing what I can do try to get them to change their minds and build an inclusive playground instead. Emailing the Mayor and city council are just the beginning. I will continue to fight for my tax dollars to be spent wisely on a park that includes both of my children. The children who have differing abilities in my village, and every village, town, and city deserve to have a park in their neighborhood where they can play independently.