Charmaine Bellamy’s 12-year-old son Luke has never shown much interest in playgrounds.
“Going to the playground has actually been kind of pointless in the past,” Bellamy said. “There’s nothing he actually feels safe and secure to do.”
Luke has autism, is non-verbal and has a number of other medical conditions. It wasn’t until the start of the new school year when the sensory playground at John Dolan School opened, things changed.
“To see him inclusive, to see him doing things I didn’t think he was able to do – that he just felt comfortable doing. As a mom watching that, it was heartwarming.”
The idea of this inclusive play structure was started by the school’s parent-council in 2015. That’s when fundraising began for the $583,000 project as well.
At the time, the only equipment that existed at the school was a set of swings the student’s weren’t physically able to use and the importance of having a playground was recognized.
John Dolan School principal Kathleen Underwood said the new space is a game-changer.
“I come out every day and I watch the students just being kids playing on the playground,” Underwood said. “Before they didn’t have access to equipment. If we went to another playground there were places they couldn’t go there were things they couldn’t touch.”
According to Underwood there’s nothing like it in Western Canada. The playground is entirely wheelchair accessible and features sensory panels, a sensory surface track for therapeutic bikes and, perhaps most unique, a wheelchair swing imported from Australia.
“Everywhere here is for them and that’s the biggest piece for me,” Bellamy said. “They have a right to the same access to recreational things in their lives as anyone else does.”
When the playground opened in September, Bellamy remembers Luke trying the swings for the first time in his 12 years. She said there were two other kids on the swings beside him and, seeing him able to do the same things as other kids, thought “this is the definition of inclusion.”
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