Sunday, April 18, 2010

Park Etiquette

On Friday the girls and I visited a great 'all abilities' park - Livvi's Place at Timbrell Park in Five Dock. It is completely accessible and the kids all had a great time (yes, even Ashlea).

At first I was a little disapointed that there wasn't a wheelchair swing, but after talking to my friend (and blog reader) who was on the planning committee she explained the reason they didn't include one is because it kind of segregates the kids in wheelchairs.  Fair point.  The whole point of the park is that children of 'all abilities' can play side by side. They have certainly achieved that aim - the park  has lots of 'regular' park eqipment, as well as some things designed specifically for children with special needs.

As well as all the regular swings, slippery dips, climbing equipment, and spinning things there is a sand pit, a birds nest swing that an adult and a child with a disability could go on together, a round-a-bout with standing room, chairs and wheelchair spots, a ramp that has a slide off it, a set of musical chimes...I can't think what else - click here for a fly around view of the park to see what I've forgotten!  My girls all had a great time and we will definitely be going back!

Now however, two issues have come up for me from this park visit.

The first is did my friend get her role in planning the park?  And how can I help plan a park like that in my council area???

The second is more an issue of park etiquette.  Or general etiquette really.

While we were at the park, we were the only 'all abilities' family there, and I was surprised by the number of children staring at us.  REALLY staring at us.  And asking questions.  Not the come up and make conversation type of questions either - the random called out type of questions as you walk past!  I have gotten used to avoiding the questions of adults - not by not answering them, rather by not giving them a chance to ask them!  But children don't pick up on those vibes, so they ask.

Why is she in the wheelchair?
Has she got something wrong with her legs?
And my personal favourite What happened to her??? 

So, I would like to know what answers you give in those situations.  I need a quick blurb to answer children's questions.  I'm afraid I didn't answer well on Friday.  To the ones who asked "Why is she in the wheelchair?" I said "Why do you think?"  I tried to not make it sound as shrill as it just did when I typed it...I just tried to get them to come up with the answer for themselves.

To the boy who asked "What happened to her?"  I answered "Nothing".

I regret it now, as it was a missed opportunity to talk about disability and inclusion and understanding, but I was on my way out of the park and just didn't feel like having a big discussion.  How do you answer that question anyway???

So...a short, but positive statement is what I need.  I don't want to say "She is in the chair because she can't walk", I"d rather say "The chair helps her to get around".  Something that focuses on the positive not the negaitve.

How do you answer the curious questions of staring children?  What is your 'quick blurb'?


caryanne said...

When we take Ben out with his walker (we don't have a wheelchair yet since we still use a stroller if needed), we get lots of questions from kids. Since they are mostly very young, I usually just say "His legs don't work the way that ours do so the walker helps him get around". They seem OK with that and continue on playing.

I'm really jealous that you have a playpark like that! WOW! Enjoy it!

T said...

Chloe's Mum Tara at is currently fundraising and planning an all abilities park - so you may be best off talking to her :)
And on second thoughts, I am sure Coopers mum has also posted a blog about answering children's questions;

Hope that helps

Big brother, Little sister. said...

Alison that park sounds great! I am glad that all the family had a good time too.

My fave is "what's wrong with him?" ! Cooper then pretends to shoot the person! lol

Cooper hears all these comments and then does the Adam Sandler/Happy Gillmore/Ben Stiller cutting off the throat action...( to signify the cord around his neck at birth)."you explain it Mum" he says....

* Cooper uses a wheelchair as he cannot walk by himself he sometimes uses a walker too or knee walks.
* It helps him access/play with the same things like you.
* He gets tired easily in a walker so this chair helps him.
* When Cooper was born his brain got hurt so all his muscles work a bit differently.
* His muscles are not strong enough or co-ordinated enough to walk by himself.
* There is nothing wrong with him but yes he happens to have CP.

I choose one of these most of the time and that suffices. They ask, get an answer then move onto asking Cooper about Ben 10 or whatever subject I have diverted too after the obvious!
After time kids don;t ask about the wheelchair more about Coopers speech and why he wears a bandana bib.

Simple works best!

Bron xoxox

Sarah said...

This is something I am yet to master...I quite often cant be bothered to explain!

Gina said...

I love the questions (I know, I am a sicko) But I am always surprised at how interested kids actually are and often how insightful their comments or follow up questions are. They aren't asking to be rude - they literally want to know what happened, so they understand. I look at every opportunity as a teaching opportunity and relish every moment.
* Mac's muscles don't work properly so his chair helps him get around and answer subsequent Q if they come
* when he was a baby he got very very sick and his brain got hurt and stopped his muscles from working properly. He understands everything just fine, but can't move or see very well.
To "can he talk" I answer No, not like you and I do, but he has buttons he presses with his feet to tell us things...
To "why does he dribble" I explain about the muscle thing again and how even his swallowing, spit and dribble muscles don't work so well. (Mac wears scarves to catch the 'drips'). I also explain, depending on the audience that because he doesn't sweat the same like we do, then all that moisture that would normally come out our skin has to come out somewhere. kids love that, they go "ohhh, so really it's only sweat". One asked... is it really salty? As I said, love their insights.

Fiona said...

The park sounds amazing Alison.

But now I have a question too (I hope that is ok). I have 2 kids with inquiring minds and loud voices.

Since I have been reading your blog I have gained a lot of insight into how parents of a less able bodied child see things - you portray your situation so well. But I am still not sure how I could best handle my child's questions.

My gut instinct if Sofie (age 4) asked a question would be to say that I don't know the answer, why don't we go over and ask the child/mother. But would this be ok, or just pushy and rude?

Sadly integration does NOT happen here at all which makes me very sad, although we have several friends (one adult and 1 child) who are in wheelchairs. Because of this I think my kids are probably less likely to be the ones asking questions because they already accept that this is how things are for some people. But I would still love to hear how it is best handled from your point of view.

Alison said...

Thanks for all your comments - they've been really helpful. Bron - I LOVE Cooper's sense of humour - I nearly spat my tea all over the computer screen when I read that!

Fiona - I think asking is fine - especially if you are being friendly at the park (as opposed to yelling out across the park!). For me the way the question is asked can make a huge difference.

Gina said...

Fiona & Alison
We try to make Mac's wheelchair pretty cool looking as that helps people strike up a conversation. They can say to Mac, 'hey, I like your Ben 10 wheels, or at Xmas, cool reindeer etc. It is kind of an ice-breaker. It wasn't intentional in the beginning, but it is now. Sometimes I think this actually gives authenticity to Mac's style of mobility - he isn't defined by his chair, but it is a big part of who he is and we use it to help share his personality at a glance.

TheRextras said...

Also check out Morgan's Wonderland, newly opened in Texas, for more ideas.

On their website they share how the park was funded. Barbara

John Perkins said...

I am a founder and director of Touched By Olivia Foundation, the charity that built Livvi's Place. Its great to hear the feedback. Thank you

Our aim is to roll out playgrounds all around Australia, where people do not know that they are at an all abilities playground because there is absolutely no segregration. We find it quite empowering when we see research that proves that kids by the age of 5 already have it hard wired into their heads as to what is a social norm, and if kids are use to playing with kids with special needs they grow up not seeing special needs kids as no different to any other kid they play with.

We have found that there is a need to educate parents (not kids)of what to expect when they visit such a playground. We find the kids questions lovely, as it is part of the process of including all kids into their process of play. As such, we are looking to do two things
1. work with State Government disability services to produce a video for parents of what to expect when they visit a Livvi's Place playground
2. link up the principals of local primary schools and special need schools so that they both send kids to the playground at the same time, with a bit of pre education around what to expect

By achieiving this, we hope that Livvi's place will not just be an all abilities playground, but will also be a lifetime social asset

Molly said...

What about if you write a short story on a paper, print it several times and hand it to the parents of the child that's asking so they can discuss it with them? That would save you explaining over and over... I don't know if that's something you'd like to do, I got this idea from friends that do this when people ask about their adopted daughter