Why can’t my disabled child have the same chance for playground fun as every other child? Join the campaign!

With Becky Maddern for Scope

For most children, a trip to the park is a fun way to pass an hour or so. The slide! The climbing frame! The swings! Yay! But if you are a child who has a physical disability, the chances are that all you’ll be able to do is watch your siblings or friends play. Not so much fun.

The charity Scope is running The Play Investigation to find out just how many local playgrounds are accessible to all, whatever your abilities. It’s easy to participate online until January 2024, and we’ll show you how at the end. It’s hoped it’ll provide valuable data to strengthen campaigning for inclusive playgrounds that Scope can share with local and national governments.

To illustrate the issues, Becky Maddern, the mum of a disabled child, has taken some time in her hectic summer schedule to write about her family’s experiences with what should be everyday childhood fun.

My disabled child has the right to play like any other child by Becky Maddern

As a mum to a child with profound disability, I have firsthand experience of what it feels like to see your child excluded from parts of society. My son Benjamin, 8, has a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy and Cerebral visual impairment (CVI). All these conditions together mean Benjamin is unable to sit unaided, crawl, stand or walk. However, despite his diagnosis and all his challenges, he is a little boy with the most infectious smile, the most cheeky personality, and who adores interacting with his family and friends.

We are an incredibly active family who love the outdoors. Benjamin enjoys going to the park with his two older brothers; he loves to be swung high on the swing, to go fast down the slide and most importantly, he has a right to. When Benjamin was four years old, we lifted him into a cradle swing at our local park and he got stuck—he’s very tall! I realised we wouldn’t be able to go to our local play park as a family anymore because it lacked accessible and inclusive equipment.

Benjamin in a backpack carrier at the beach with his mum, Becky
Benjamin in a backpack carrier with his mum, Becky

A campaign is born

Four years ago, I started campaigning to try to make a difference, to raise awareness and to try and bring about change not only for my son, but all families who are unable to access and enjoy play parks. I started by contacting my local MP and attending council meetings to raise awareness and share Benjamin’s journey. My campaign work then started to expand further afield to include communicating with other stakeholders such as landscape architects, play manufacturers and housing developers. I’ve now set up a community interest company called PiPA PLAY (Plan Inclusive Play Areas) and am devoting all my time, as well as being a parent/carer, to trying to bring about societal change.

During my campaign work, I’ve had the privilege of working with Scope, the disability equality charity, on their Let’s Play Fair campaign. This campaign sets out to make playgrounds more inclusive and accessible for disabled children because every child has a right to play. To help highlight how inaccessible our local playgrounds are, I’ve worked with Scope to develop The Play Investigation and we need your support with it.

Benjamin in an accessible swing, next to his brother on a normal swing
Benjamin and his brother having fun on an accessible swing set

What’s The Play Investigation?

The Play Investigation is a fun and easy way to discover how inclusive and accessible your local playground is for disabled children. We’re asking people, especially fellow parent/carers of disabled children, to answer a few short, simple questions at a local playground using Scope’s online survey to investigate accessibility there.

People are taking part in the Play Investigation all over the country. Together we’re building a picture of which local playgrounds are great for disabled children, and which need to improve. Knowledge is power and with this new information, we can make change happen.

Scope will be using the information gathered through The Play Investigation to take it to local and national governments, to highlight why change is needed and call for more inclusive playgrounds. Scope is also empowering parents with this information to run their own campaigns, and has coproduced resources to help you make change where you are.

Benjamin in his wheelchair and his older brother are on an accessible roundabout at a playground
Benjamin and his older brother on an accessible roundabout

How can I get involved?

But the first step is to find out how playgrounds all around the country are faring when it comes to accessibility and inclusivity. You can take part in the Play Investigation in as many playgrounds as you want near you. All you need is your phone or tablet which connects to the internet. Find out more information about The Play Investigation, and get involved.

Working with Scope has allowed me to meet so many other amazing parent/carers who are also raising awareness and lobbying for change to ensure that play parks are accessible and inclusive by design and when refurbished. For me, the work of Scope is incredibly important for helping to raise awareness more quickly and bring about more effective change. The Play Investigation will get people thinking and also realising that so many children, young people and their families feel isolated and excluded from playgrounds. Play is fundamental to a child’s development and all children have a need and right to access their local play park. Together, we can make that happen.

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