A mum’s 5 top tips for action to get a local inclusive playground for your disabled child

with Sam Bowen, parent carer

During the summer, we ran an article from Scope about surveying your local playgrounds for accessibility. Their survey is still running, so you can still participate.

Today, we have an article from parent carer, Sam Bowen, whose daughter has complex disabilities. Sam explains how she didn’t wait for her council to act, but got stuck in to create her own local accessible playground.

No time to waste in helping my disabled daughter have fun. by Same Bowen

Accessible playgrounds weren’t on my radar until my daughter Lucy was born with a unique genetic condition and complex needs. Overnight, our parenting landscape changed. Simple pleasures, like taking our baby to the park, showed how little disability access is designed for.

When she was small, I could lift her onto swings and see-saws. But as these weren’t designed with supportive backs, I had to hold her on them. As she grew, this became more of a struggle.

By then, I was used to the alienation and loneliness of being the only parent of a visibly disabled child in the playground. I couldn’t sit and join the other mums, because I was supporting my child’s access to play. One day in particular, I was aware of not just pity in the faces of the other mums, but anger that I was there at all, attempting to lift my child out of a swing not designed for her. None of the equipment had been designed for a child like her and we didn’t feel welcome there.

Sam and her daughter on an inclusive swing

Enough is enough!

It was at this point I thought: enough is enough! I researched accessible playgrounds online, made contact with other SEND mums and resolved to change this inequality. I worked with Lucy’s special school to fundraise for, design (with staff and pupil input) and project manage the creation of their dream accessible playground. When it opened, the children rushed into it and claimed it as theirs. It still is a central heart of the school.

Next, I approached my local council which was redeveloping the recreational ground. When I saw the plans for their playground, nothing accessible was listed. I arranged a meeting with the planners, explaining how inaccessible this was—and how simple it was to change. They listened, I helped, and they delivered.

This playground was key for Scope’s “Let’s Play Fair” campaign that Lucy and I were involved in a few years later. It is evidence that councils can change and can listen, but they need guidance from those with lived experience. They don’t always know what ‘accessible’ looks like and sadly, some play equipment companies aren’t truthful on what is either.

The playground survey is important

All children benefit from outdoor play, but those benefits are maximised if they can do so together. And that takes planning, good design, and advice from those who are in the know – you and your children. That’s why Scope’s Play Investigation survey is so important. By reviewing the accessibility of your local playgrounds using this short survey, you can help change the landscape for disabled children and their families so their access to outdoor play is equal and fair.

I also lobbied the Government in 2021 to include Inclusive Playgrounds in the new National Disability Strategy, which they did. This was a landmark moment, but practical change still needs to come in from action at a local level, which is where Scope’s national campaign really helps. With parents like me, they got the Government to consult on making inclusive playgrounds mandatory. But we need your support by taking part in the Play Investigation, and making change locally, to keep the Government focused.

Sam and her daughter

Five top tips for campaigning for inclusive playgrounds

Now Lucy is older, she and I may be ‘paying it forward’ for future families like ours and babies yet to be born. But I never want another SEND mum to feel as isolated as I did in a playground. I’m doing this for her too.

Scope has gathered five top tips to help you campaigning for an inclusive and accessible playground campaign:

  1. Find out what’s already at the playground you want to change – take Scope’s Play Investigation survey to find out what could be improved.
  2. Connect with other parents and speak to your local council about improving your local playgrounds. Use Scope’s guide to campaigning to get started. It has advice about what makes a playground inclusive and accessible, how to get funding for a playground, and much more.
  3. Identify who is in charge of the playground, and who can persuade them to make it inclusive.
  4. Good planning will get your campaign off to a strong start, and persistence will keep it going. You need both!
  5. Remember your child has the right to play, and that you make people sit up and listen to make inclusive play happen.

About Sam

Sam Bowen is a Museum professional and runs the #SENDinMuseums campaign. She can be found at @makedoandSEND on X/Twitter and her website is here

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