A brand new play park built in Northern Ireland has been branded as a great opportunity terribly wasted. Christine McClements, mother to Lilia and prominent disability rights advocate has hit out at the lack of accessibility for children who use a wheelchair.
The park, which was constructed using £1.5m of public funds was opened with great aplomb by local politicians in the borough of Lisburn and Castlereagh last week. With funding sourced from a budget identified to relieve rural poverty and isolation, the new facilities in Hillsborough have excluded access to some of the populations' most isolated children who have lived in poverty for almost all of their lives.
Mrs. McClements insists that this missed opportunity to make a brand new facility fully inclusive only ads to the deficit of accessible facilities in the area. Having pitched the need for accessibility to the council during the planning and development stage of the new park, she adds: "The amount of public money spent on this new flagship destination play park is a disgrace given the lack of equipment for children using wheelchairs."
A council spokesperson insisted that the relevant agencies were involved in the design of the play park and sighted involvement of a local special needs school, who specialise in teaching children with non-physical disabilities. There is also provision for those children who can get out of a wheelchair by independent means or to be lifted, but nothing at all for those who are unable to make this transition. In defending the playpark design the council reiterated that PlayBoard NI gave an accessibility rating of 93% to the park and would increase this when the toilet area became available to park users later in the year. This would surely beg the question as to the nature of the criteria being used by PlayBoard NI and the policy to set the framework around scoring accessibility; together with any professional competency in this field?
Speaking at a preview before the park was opened the government minister whos department supplied two-thirds of the funding for the overall project insisted that it would be used by many children over the coming months. He was obviously not aware that with a little more foresight, it would have been used by many more.
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