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|TX: 24.06.04 - MOTHER CAMPAIGNS TO MAKE PLAYGROUNDS ACCESSIBLE†
PRESENTER: LIZ BARCLAY AND WINIFRED ROBINSON
|THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.† BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
A ghost in the playground - that's how one mother describes her son. Toby Marriot is six and disabled and his local playground in Leicestershire is an assault course of unusable swings and slides. His mother, Julie, feels so angry about his exclusion that she's lobbying local authorities all over the UK to provide play areas suitable for all children. Sonal Patel met Julie and Toby Marriot but first she spoke to three young people with cerebral palsy who recently won their own campaign for a better equipped playground.
Really good fun.†
Here in Solihull it took five years for twins Leanne and Jess Allan and their friend Marcus Ballard to get their local authority on board. They now have a roundabout that takes wheelchairs and bucket swings for disabled children.†
To get on to the roundabout you open the gate and you go on, completely flat you see you don't have to get any [indistinct words].†
Tell me your fantasy playground?
Big swings, roundabouts and slides so that everyone could join in and do. Because obviously it's not easy to get a wheelchair down a slide but in a fantasy playground that would happen.†
Where you'd be able to go there and do wheelies on the slide?
It took Leanne, my friends from the Children's Society a long time to get accessible play equipment in Solihull but it was worth it. I can now go to the park and play with my sisters whenever I want. Do you know what it's like to really want to do something but know that you can't? All you tend to do is sit in your chair and watch.
Just looking at this tower there is absolutely no way that a parent could carry a child as heavy as my son - who's three and a half stone - up on to that unit to put them down the slide.
Julie Marriot used to be a banker until she gave up her job to look after her son Toby who has severe disabilities. He hasn't visited his local playground in Markfield, Leicestershire since he was two, he's now six.†
Although my child actually will make the right noises and gets excited because he's going to the park with all the other children he then sits on the sidelines, so he's that ghost who's going down the slide, he's that ghost that's swinging on the swings because probably in his head that's what he wants to be doing but we just can't sort it out for him. The last time I went to our village park and actually realised that I just couldn't get Toby in a baby swing on my own any longer, it was physically impossible, because of his weight and his length and the size of the seat I actually cried, I actually came away from the park crying. And it still upsets me now. How sad that at the age of two my child can no longer use a park. And that isn't because of his problems, other people have not designed the parks to make them suitable for him.
Three per cent of children in Britain under the age of 16 have some form of disability. I asked parents in the playground where Julie's son Toby isn't able to play if they'd even stopped to think about children like Toby and their needs.
To tell you the truth I've not really thought about it. I've never really considered what disabled children can do on playgrounds.
If you haven't thought about them coming into the park, you haven't thought about them in that way.
You don't see them, do you. Which is terrible.
And according to many disabled rights campaigners that's the problem. From October the new section of the Disability Discrimination Act will oblige local authorities to make every reasonable effort to cater for disabled children. What that means in practice is that they must make the actual playgrounds themselves accessible with ramps and wide gates, for instance, but they're not specifically required to provide specially adapted equipment. Many people are concerned the law isn't forceful enough to persuade councils to go that extra mile.
I'm Julie Wigfull, I'm regional manager with the Children's Society in the Midlands Region. What we're after is planners talking to local children when they're thinking about providing services. And I think it's by talking to the local children and including disabled children in those consultations that planners will really begin to provide what local children want. And I think the knock on effect of that is that local children will protect that equipment and feel that they own it.
Meanwhile Julie Marriot wants to ensure every child has access to at least one piece of equipment in a playground. She's currently negotiating with local authorities all over Britain . I went with Julie to West Yorkshire to meet manufacturer Robin Sutcliffe.
Most of the things that we do, do not cost anymore and I would say that almost every local authority now is doing their own up and down the country. The equipment on the average playground is probably working out at about ¬£15,000 and I don't think that changes significantly.
And I went on with Julie and Robin to nearby Highfield School which has a specially adapted climbing frame and slide unit.
So what we've built here is a ramp on a hill with a bridge across to the unit on to the main platform, which you can see is a very big platform with seats and with support rails. The most wonderful thing about designing this equipment has been actually to discover that people who look at our inclusive equipment can't see any difference between it and any other playground equipment.
Julie, how does it make you feel seeing a playground like that - seeing all the kids on the equipment?
Very mixed feelings actually - very happy for the children that have the equipment to play on and very, very sad for the fact that there isn't much of it around in the UK at the moment and obviously a lot of children are missing out.
Julie Marriot ending that report by Sonal Patel. Laura Willoughby's from the Local Government Association, she takes a special interest in disability policy. Do you think that councils generally recognise the exclusion of disabled children from playgrounds as a problem?
Yes absolutely. Councils work very hard, regardless of the DDA, to make sure that the equipment they have is suitable for the young people that want to use it. The DDA now puts a legal obligation for us to start looking at everything we do, from service delivery to buildings, and start planning on what we would prioritise. But councils have for a long while made sure that what they do is consult with the local community and users on how to make play equipment more integrated and accessible.
Why are there so few parks actually accessible to disabled children now?
I'd imagine partly cost, councils don't have much [indistinct word] budget and actually DDA compliance is very expensive and priorities are going to have to be made.
So they're worried about it but they can't afford to do anything about it - is that what you're saying?
I think there is a worry and there is an issue around cost. But councils are also replacing very old playgrounds already, we've just replaced one in Islington that was from the '70s and early '80s, which was totally unsuitable for any children, let alone disabled children. And in the planning of that there was full consultation with young people and disabled users, which is very important to do and was reflected in your report.
I mean given everything that you have said do you expect there will be much change after October then when the Disability Discrimination Act requires councils to make reasonable adjustments to playground access only?
You'll see that the departments in charge of playgrounds will have plans for how they are going to bring about disabled accessibility. But you won't see them ...
But that's just meeting the letter of the law isn't it, it's not meeting the spirit of the law.
Yeah you won't see them ripping out playgrounds in order to make them fully accessible but you may see them adapting them when they have the funds to do so and that discussion around what is reasonable is also around cost. And also there's a very good report by the National Playing Fields Association called Can Play, Will Play written by officers in Bristol that says there are small adaptations you can make to current parks to make them accessible and that you have to make sure that you could spend a fortune on an all singing, all dancing integrated play equipment but you might actually reduce the play opportunities for a large number of children by doing that. So it's getting the balance right.
Laura Willoughby thank you.
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