Disabled children are being excluded and isolated from local playgrounds

Disabled children are being excluded and isolated from local playgrounds

May 12, 2022

Every child should have the right to play, but, according to new research, disabled children are being excluded from their local playgrounds.

In the UK, 8% of children are disabled – and according to research conducted by disability equality charity, Scope, 49% of families with disabled children have faced accessibility problems at their local playground.

The latest findings, released today, show that many disabled children cannot enjoy and utilise their local playground because it isn’t ‘designed for them.’ 

Of the respondents, 12% said their child didn’t feel safe using the playground equipment, while 11% of families said their disabled children hurt themselves when using inaccessible equipment.

This is true for Emily-May, who is non-verbal and a wheelchair user due to having a rare developmental condition called Baraitser-Winter syndrome. 

‘When we went to a park recently, there was only one piece of equipment my daughter could use,’ explains Lorna, Emily-May’s mum. ‘But she wanted to play so desperately that she sat in it and spun until she made herself sick.’

It’s not just the equipment that’s causing problems. Discrimination from other parents also makes the playground unsafe and uninviting.

‘I just don’t want Emily-May to disappear from the community. We’ve been at the park, and a mum has physically turned her child away from my daughter, which is heartbreaking,’ Lorna says.

‘Some children and parents ask questions, and I’m happy to explain about Emily-May. I just don’t want her to be ignored.’

The research, based on a survey of 1000 parents and guardians, found that many children are being denied fun and development opportunities, leaving many families feeling isolated and excluded.

At the playground, 12-year-old Lucy often has to sit and watch her friends play because most of the equipment isn’t accessible to her. Lucy has a rare chromosome condition that causes severe learning disabilities, and she is also a wheelchair user.

‘The nearest accessible playground is a 15-minute drive away, and even then, the large play unit can only be accessed by steps that are completely out of bounds to us,’ explains Sam Bowen, Lucy’s mum. ‘My daughter can only sit in her wheelchair and watch the other children run around playing. Where’s the fun in that for her?

‘We just want what any other parent wants for their child, a happy childhood with as much fun in it as possible. Is that too much to ask?’

Other families have anonymously shared their children’s experiences of feeling left behind and isolated at parks. One parent explains that their eldest son will sit in his wheelchair listening to an audiobook while his brother and sister play on the swings and slides.

‘Simple measures like tactile flooring, so my blind daughter knows where the danger zone around the swings are, would be useful and would benefit all children,’ one parent tells Scope. 

‘High contrast colours on climbing frame bars would help. And they should avoid yellow because it is particularly difficult to see in sunlight. Footholds that are not slippery would also be beneficial, so my daughter has a chance to climb up the equipment despite her cerebral palsy. 

‘My other bugbear is that the “accessible” options are often in the pre-school area, so she rarely gets to engage with her friends in the same playground.’

One family has been asking their local parish council for a disabled swing at the park, and while it has been discussed, they say it has not been implemented in the seven years since they brought it up.

‘Every child has an equal right to play. Play feeds imagination and forms friendships,’ says Emma Vogelmann, lead policy adviser at Scope. ‘Our playgrounds are places where memories are made and where children can be themselves.   

‘Yet many disabled children can’t enjoy their local playground because the equipment isn’t designed for them.

‘It leaves disabled children shut out and missing childhood experiences. For some disabled children, inaccessible equipment has even put their safety at risk.’

These findings mark the launch of Scope’s new campaign, Let’s Play Fair, which demands that every child has an equal right to play. 

Scope is calling on the government to create an inclusive playground fund. The hope is that the investment would see more local parks offer accessible equipment such as swings, paving that keeps children safe and sensory equipment.  

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