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Airdronians advocate for community’s first inclusive playground

“[This is] not only about being able to access them to make them inclusive, but so everyone can use them for their full ability,” she explained.  

Thanks to the advocacy efforts of two residents, Airdrie will soon be home to the city’s first inclusive playground, a developmentally appropriate park for children with and without disabilities.  

The site will serve as a safe place where children of all abilities can play together and will be thoughtfully designed to this end, according to Kayla McPhail, a disability advocate and local parent. 

McPhail, and her advocacy partner and friend Shelby Perrotta have successfully petitioned the City of Airdrie for the development of an inclusive playground to be built in the community of Bayside this summer.  

The park is going to be built in partnership with Variety Alberta, a non-profit organization whose aim is to enable all children with special needs to be an active part of their community. The charity has completed more than a dozen playground projects in Calgary and the surrounding area.  

“[An inclusive playground] is a way for children of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to come and play on the equipment that enables play for all,” McPhail told the Airdrie City View. 

She said people with disabilities constitute the world’s largest minority group and remarked it is the only demographic that anybody can become a member of at any time.  

Advocating for people with disabilities is personal to McPhail, as her six-year-old son Bronson was born with cerebral palsy, a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. 

“With Bronson being non-mobile, non-verbal, it’s hard to get around and to go to different play area outings as a family where it’s inclusive and accessible,” she shared. “It’s really hard to find [that] in Airdrie. There’s lots of accessible playgrounds, but not inclusive.” 

According to McPhail, an accessible playground differs from an inclusive one in that it enables a child to get up on the play equipment, including features such as ramps and rubber-based footing, but it does not include alternative play for those with disabilities. 

“But for Bronson, especially in a wheelchair, he can’t use his arms,” she shared. “So, for him just getting up on the playground, that’s not enough for him... he wants to play and be involved.” 

McPhail and her family discovered one of Variety’s inclusive playgrounds in Cochrane and found great success taking Bronson there.  

“It’s so amazing because we get to not only get up on the playground with his wheelchair, but we also get to play,” she explained, adding play options include a trampoline, and other interactive and accessible features.  

Shortly thereafter, she reached out to the City of Airdrie to inquire whether the municipality had been approached by Variety or if they would be interested in having an inclusive playground of their own.  

“I talked to both sides and now here we are planning a park in the Bayside community for the first Variety, inclusive playground for Airdrie,” she exclaimed.  

McPhail and Perrotta met four years ago through a program that supports children with disabilities, and later formed a “beautiful friendship,” according to Perrotta, an early childhood educator who works with children with special needs and disabilities.  

“[Kayla] asked me to help her advocate and be a part of contributing to this project,” Perrotta shared. “So, we’ve partnered up and are trying to make a difference in the community together.” 

According to Perrotta, play is a fundamental human right that is denied to many children, youth, and adults who are living with disabilities via inaccessible play spaces in their communities.  

“[This is] not only about being able to access them to make them inclusive, but so everyone can use them for their full ability,” she explained.  

The duo’s advocacy efforts have paid off and the City will be contributing $87,200 towards the total cost of constructing the inclusive playground. A fundraising goal has also been set to bring an additional $110,000 to the project. 

“It takes about 12 weeks to order the supplies, so we have until the end of April to get all of our fundraising efforts in and then we will be building once the equipment comes through,” McPhail said. 

In partnership with Variety, the team will be trying to access local and government grants to help fund the project. They will also be going door-to-door to local businesses to get the word out and will also be promoting the initiative on their Facebook group: Make Airdrie Playgrounds Inclusive and Accessible

“We’re also in the works of getting some fundraising efforts and events going forward... we can’t speak to them just yet, but a few we’re working on finalizing at this time,” Perrotta confessed. “We’ve come together with a few local sponsors [for that].” 

According to McPhail, the project is of the utmost importance for children with disabilities who don’t have the same options to play that other children may have.  

“We need to have options for these kids as well. We all know growing up what our favourite park was – there's so many different options for us,” she said. “A community that is so big like Airdrie... we need options.” 

McPhail shared the City has already been working with Variety to develop another inclusive playground in the summer of 2024.  

“This one will be pretty extravagant, and pretty amazing, so we’re very excited to work on that project as well as this one,” she said.

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