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Vancouver Park Board scuttles dedicated sensory and accessible park idea

Click to play video: 'Sensory park proposal scrapped by Vancouver Park Board'
Sensory park proposal scrapped by Vancouver Park Board
watch: The Vancouver Park Board has rejected a proposal to build a sensory park for neurodivergent children and kids with mobility challenges. – Jan 24, 2024

The Vancouver Park Board has rejected a proposal to build a dedicated accessible and sensory park for neurodivergent children and kids with mobility challenges.

The board passed a version of the motion, proposed by ABC Vancouver Park Commissioner Jas Virdi, on Tuesday night, but with major amendments that eliminated the concept of a dedicated park.

The majority of non-ABC commissioners instead told staff to report back on progress towards existing accessible and sensory playground features under an older policy, along with plans to build five additional fully accessible play areas.

Click to play video: 'Hockey players with sensory needs accommodated with inclusive teddy bear toss'
Hockey players with sensory needs accommodated with inclusive teddy bear toss

It also called for the Vancouver Parks Foundation to launch a fundraiser for private donations towards sensory park equipment that could one day be used for a dedicated sensory park.

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Some park commissioners argued Virdi’s proposal overlapped with existing work to add sensory-friendly play areas and accessible features into new and existing parks.

“Passing yet another unfunded and unsourced motion will not achieve our objectives,” Board Chair Laura Christensen said. “I hope that staff yesterday have heard the stories and lived experiences of this community clearly and that they will take this feedback and incorporate it into the ongoing park planning and renewal work.”

Virdi, who is a parent to a child with autism, said the re-vamping of his motion ignored the experiences of parents who had come to speak to the board, describing how they feel shamed or judged when their children have a sensory breakdown in traditional parks.

“They say they no longer take their child to a park because they’re so uncomfortable and it makes them feel bad, it makes their child feel bad,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Theatre performance for the visually impaired'
Theatre performance for the visually impaired

“The concept of this was to make a destination park, and the reason why it has to be a destination park is because a destination park fills that culture where this is acceptable, like people can know going to this park, there’s going to be other neurodiverse children there, there’s going to be other children with mobility challenges there.”

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The move also sparked a critical letter from Sergio Cocchia, board chair for the Pacific Autism Family Centre Foundation, which described the amendments as “offensive.”

“Speaker after speaker told the board that our community was not being served,” he wrote. “The proposed initiative called for a PARK, not a playground, and to suggest what exists presently meets the communities’ needs is an amazing display of devaluing the self-advocates and families who spoke.”

Christensen responded on social media Wednesday, writing that the park board has been “quietly working on delivering accessible parks under the VanPlay initiative to build five fully-accessible play areas (which includes sensory features) since 2019 and will continue to do so.”

Despite the Tuesday vote, the concept of a sensory park may not yet be dead, as the proposal is drawn into the larger political battle over the future of the park board.

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim has vowed to eliminate the city’s elected park board and bring its administration under city council. In a Tuesday statement Sim said he was “disappointed” in the vote and that his party would continue to support the concept. Sim has scheduled a press conference for Thursday to provide updates on his plan for the future of the board.

Click to play video: 'What is ‘sensory’ play & why you need to try it at home'
What is ‘sensory’ play & why you need to try it at home

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