NANAIMO — After years of watching classmates play, eight-year-old Hannah Houghton can now play with them.
Nanaimo's first accessible and inclusive playground was unveiled at McGirr Elementary School Thursday afternoon, featuring a swing and carousel for students like Hannah who are in wheelchairs.
She said seeing the playground for the first time was an amazing experience. “I couldn't believe it,” she said.
The four year journey towards the playground was spearheaded by her mother Mabel Houghton, who said she and her family realized something was missing when they visited their daughter at school one day.
“Coming around a corner and seeing Hannah sitting at the top of the yard, looking down with nobody, it broke my heart to see that my child is being excluded, my child is not part of (play) and she wants to be. We went through times where this little girl, who loves school, would say she didn't want to go,” Houghton said.
After speaking to the McGirr parent advisory council, Houghton said not a lot of progress was made over the first few years, which led to feeling like she'd failed as a mother. But over the last summer, when Canadian Tire's Jumpstart organization got involved, the project sped along to the grand reveal.
“When we asked Hannah what she thought of the playground, she said 'It's so much more than what I thought it would.'”
Though the swing and carousel are clearly marked for students in wheelchairs, Houghton said other toys and equipment on the playground want to help all students.
“We have children at our school with disabilities you cannot see. We wanted to make sure we created an inclusive playground. Any kid can play on the carousel but it doesn't stick out and say 'I'm for a child with a disability.' It's about creating that space where all kids can play together alongside each other without sticking out like a sore thumb.”
The accessible playground isn't just for the students.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell, who's in a wheelchair, spoke about how she wished such a playground was available when her son was young. She told the sizable crowd about watching her son play down at Parksville's beach, which because it was sand she couldn't go on.
Stilwell said the new inclusive playground at McGirr will help both students and parents and bring everyone together.
On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit
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