By Bruce Chessell, Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
While most children were able to enjoy the new Foldens playground during its grand opening Saturday, there was at least one who could not.
Eight-year-old Chloe Nicol came to the playground from Salford with her mother Karen on Saturday for the opening in Foldens Park. Chloe, however, couldn’t make it to the playground equipment because of her wheelchair.
Chloe is a brain trauma injury survivor who has been in a wheelchair for her whole life. Karen also has another daughter Norah, 8, who is also confined to a wheelchair with Kleefstra syndrome. Karen said neither of her daughters could make it to the equipment because the playground surface is covered in wood chips, with no cement walkways to connect the entrance to any of that equipment.
“A child like mine, who goes in a wheelchair to the park that gets pushed, or my other daughter, who goes in a chair that pushes herself independently, cannot get to the playground,” Karen Nicol said. “They even post on the Oxford County website their mission statement about accessibility and what Oxford County stands for.”
Karen Nicol also noted that South-West Oxford Township’s mission statement states the township is committed to inspiring all people in a way that allows them to maintain their dignity and independence. The statement also emphasizes a commitment to meeting the needs of people with disabilities by preventing and removing barriers to accessibility and meeting all the requirements under the Accessibility for Ontario with Disabilities Act.
“Clearly they go against their own protocol because a child with mobility issues cannot access that park,” Karen Nicol said.
When she and her two daughters arrived at Saturday’s playground opening, her eight-year-old could not play on the equipment because her wheelchair couldn’t navigate through the surrounding sand or wood chips.
“People were watching. My 12-year-old son (Owen) got upset because he couldn’t play with his sister at the park,” she said. “That’s discrimination to me.
“All I ever get told is go to Woodstock’s Southside Park or go to Ingersoll Park.”
Karen Nicol said she has talked to both Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman and South-West Oxford Mayor David Mayberry about the issue.
Hardeman told the Sentinel-Review the playground meets all of the provincial accessibility standards.
“The big challenge is that the actual pad where the playground is in is on wood chips for the protection of young children as they fall off the playground equipment,” the MPP said. “That covering is not conducive to having wheelchairs roll over it, and I guess the challenge is that if a child in a wheelchair could get up to the equipment, it would be difficult for them to use that equipment.
“With the rules right now, accessibility means whether you can get to a particular point and in that case it does meet that standard.”
Foldens Hall Board chair Mitch Kirby echoed the MPP’s remarks, saying that the park meets all of the provincial standards for accessibility.
“We met all provincial standards and guidelines,” Kirby said. “We’ve met everything that we needed to, to put our playground in.”
Karen Nicol suggested the playground should remove the wood chips, put in a rubberized bottom, make the sidewalk cement and move the wall panels from the edge of the playground to make it more accessible.
Mayberry said there is a difference between being accessible and being barrier free.
“The issue with the wood chips … They are difficult for people in wheelchairs, and we understand that,” Mayberry said, “but they are approved by the province as a surface area. There are other surface areas that you can use, which are equally difficult, maybe more so than the wood chips.
“The ultimate covering for the playground would be a rubber mat, and it’s fairly expensive. The quote for the rubber mat for this playground was like $40,000, and the playground was just shy of $60,000, so it’s fairly expensive and we don’t know how long they’re going to last.
“So you have to say that this is what the province is recommending, this is what the township wants to do and our full intention is to live up to the regulations of the province and the recommendations of the county’s accessibility committee, and we haven’t heard from them – that committee – that this doesn’t meet the code.”
Mayberry said he does recognize that Karen Nicol’s children have to deal with significant disabilities, adding they tried to meet the needs of as many people as they could.
“I think we recognize that we’re not perfect yet,” he said. “We did try and live up to the standards of the province. I think the real question is are the standards of the province good enough?”