Inclusive Play Project advocates for a Kingston playground for everyone

Children play at an inclusive playground station. Submitted Photo.

Playgrounds should be for everyone, and a passionate group in Kingston is hoping to build an inclusive playground where everyone can play.

The Inclusive Play Project is the brainchild of Rachel Doornekamp, an occupational therapist who works for KidsInclusive at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC). KidsInclusive fosters the potential of children and youth who have physical and/or developmental challenges by offering programs and services developed to help bridge gaps for children with special needs and their families. Doornekamp and a group of colleagues and parents have come together to build a better, more inclusive playground in Kingston.

“I work with kids who have complex needs and the idea [of an inclusive playground for Kingston] has been something that’s been coming up in this community over and over again,” she explained, noting that an inclusive playground allows children and adults of all abilities to play together and creates a fun, nurturing environment for everyone. 

Recently, the Lions Club in Trenton opened an inclusive playground after a major fundraising campaign and this gave Doornekamp the “inspiration to go for it.” She contacted Kingscourt-Rideau District Councillor Brandon Tozzo in the spring to set up a meeting with City of Kingston officials about the idea. Tozzo was happy to help, he expressed.

“I’m on the accessibility advisory committee and I also have a son with special needs and ran on the platform of really putting accessibility front and center in the City. And when she contacted me… I thought this is something that, as a community, we need, and it’s something we can all be proud of as people in Kingston,” the councillor said.

“Making play as accessible as possible just seems like something that we can we can accomplish and work together toward. So, I was very, very happy to champion this with City staff and with Council and make sure it stays on track.”

Doorenkamp points out that an accessible playground doesn’t just mean it is accessible for children, though that is, of course, very important.

“It goes above and beyond simply being accessible in that it can be used by anybody. So, kids who have sensory needs, adults who might be wheelchair users that have children, and grandparents who use a walker… That’s the idea: everyone can play together in one space,” she explained.

“The whole ground surfacing is rubberized, so people who use a mobility device can access the whole park, there’s a rocker that wheelchairs can get onboard and everybody can sit on it together. We’ve been in contact with all these great organizations across the country that are they’re building these parks, and our goal is to add Kingston to that equation.”

Coming up in October, a delegation will present the idea to City Council, and City staff are already working on suggested ammendments to the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which would allow for the neccessary the upgrades, Tozzo shared.

The site that the group had chosen for the project is at Shannon Park in the Rideau Heights neighbourhood.

“And the reason [is] that the park already has an accessible zipline and accessible swings,” explained Doornekamp, “so we’re going to add on to the current park. And there’s also the Community Center, which has an accessible bathroom with a lift, which was the number one request of the families that we’ve been working with on the design process.”

The group continues to seek out partnerships within the community to support the project, she said, explaining, “This week, we officially partnered with Extend-A-Family Kingston, and we have also connected with Queen’s University to get occupational therapy and physiotherapy students involved.”

“We’re trying to build this playground, which will be a great addition to Kingston’s parks,” noted Doornekamp, “But the other big piece of this project is the advocacy around inclusive play. There’s just so much to learn… even [for] us as a committee, you know, we are parents and professionals who work in this field, and we’re learning even more about it. So our hope is that by building the park, we can also add that education piece to teach more about inclusion in our city.”

Tozzo, for his part, said “I just want to compliment Rachel; she’s really spearheaded this and has been a delightful partner to work with. Her team is absolutely amazing. And I’m just privileged to be the face on Council.” Accessibility is a key concern of the current City Council, Tozzo pointed out, which “really aligned with this project.”

The Inclusive Play Project is not just about building a playground, its about inspiring people of all abilities to play together, according to those involved in the project. Submitted photo.

Aside from preparing for their Council presentation on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, Doornekamp said the group is hard at work preparing a fundraising campaign, organizing a grant writing sub-committee, and putting together an event planning sub-committee, and she extended “a huge thanks to our volunteers.”

“One thing is becoming clear as this project moves along… this initiative is quickly becoming more than just a playground. It’s sparking some serious potential for change,” she enthused.

Those interested in getting involved can follow the Inclusive Play Project on their Facebook Page, or fill out the Community Survey they have posted on their website to gather information about the needs of the community. Project organizers also pointed to a recently created petition, which is addressed to Kingston City Council, urging Council to see the Shannon Park inclusive playground built — and to pledge all future playgrounds be inclusive, as well.

According to the project’s website, the estimated cost of the playground is close to $1 million, and “the City of Kingston has generously provided us with the public land, and will conduct the maintenance on the play structure and surfacing when it is completed. To build the park, we are relying on grant opportunities and community donations. There are many beautiful fully inclusive playgrounds across Ontario, and we would love to add Kingston to the list!”

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