Here is today’s question:
I need ideas to try and get the school to have the playground accessible for Brandon who is in a wheelchair. Brandon has trouble accessing the playground equipment and as his parent I want him to be able to play with his peers. I need ideas on how I try and get the school to help me out with this.
First, yes, the short answer is yes, the playground needs to be accessible for your child. Assuming they receive state and federal funding, if he cannot access the playground, he is “being treated differently than his non-disabled peers” (Office of Civil Rights complaint) and they have some ADA issues. So, where to begin?
It would be lovely if the school would just (duh!) do the right thing and make the playground and some of the equipment wheelchair accessible. My guess for the reason they haven’t is because of money or because no one has asked them to before. So that is where I would start–asking his teacher and principal about accessing the playground and see what kind of response you get. I’m also assuming here that you just want the playground accessible and some of the features that he wants–so that he can socialize and interact with his peers. You are not asking for one of those million-dollar special playgrounds, so you’re being reasonable.
Special needs playgrounds are all the rage right now. Many communities are putting them in as they understand the value of play and socialization and how it excludes and segregates our kids when they cannot participate. But those projects are huge undertaking. Play is valuable and recreation and being able to recreate and socialize are components of IEPs. If your son has socialization goals or gross motor/PT goals on his IEP, I would ask the team how he can work on those during recess if he cannot access the playground.
I certainly would advocate for this and push for it–at the same time being cautious and taking a collaborative approach. Recently I heard of a situation where a child needed a very expensive service/accommodation, and he got it. However, the school made it very well known (to everyone) that “there are no field trips this year because we needed to use the money for Student’s service instead.” Yeah, that. It was a crappy thing to do and you certainly wouldn’t want to open up your child for that kind of chastising. “Sorry kids, we had to close the entire playground because Brandon wanted to use it and we can’t afford the upgrades.” So I would try to keep conversations upbeat and collaborative.
I would try to get some information on what kind of modifications would have to be made and how much it would cost. While it shouldn’t be your responsibility, you may want to contact local Lions, Rotary and groups like that and ask them all to chip in $1000 or $2000 to collectively cover the cost. If he just needs a sidewalk or ramp, call local concrete contractors and see if they will do it at cost or as a donation. Ask your school personnel if they need you to write a letter for them to pursue some type of grant. In other words, offer to help to the best that you are able to. Bring in other parents in your situation at your school, if there are any, and work together. Research online as to how communities do get their special needs playgrounds funded and see if you can replicate it.
And if that doesn’t work, you have to decide how far you want to take it. I wouldn’t start out this way, but you can always contact attorneys and the media or your local legislator and see if that changes their mind. But like my Nan always said…You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Good Luck and keep us posted!