Vancouver Schools Lag on Playground Accessibility, Parents Say

While some Lower Mainland school districts have publicly released accessibility plans, Vancouver’s is still in “formative stage” 18 months past legislated deadline. Author of the article:Dan Fumano
Published Mar 30, 2024

Parents of children with disabilities say new playgrounds at Vancouver elementary schools are inaccessible for their kids.

Wheelchair users are finding the thick, slippery artificial turf surface recently installed at some schools difficult or impossible to navigate, parents say.

It has been frustrating Laura Van Doormaal, who has a son at Dickens Elementary in east Vancouver and a daughter, who uses a wheelchair, expecting to go there next year. Van Doormaal hopes that by the time her daughter starts kindergarten, the inaccessible play surface installed in December will have been replaced.

Representatives of the Dickens parent advisory council say they wish the school district had consulted with them before settling on this design, and now they are trying to raise money to resurface the area with a more-accessible rubber surface.

Van Doormaal knows the public school system has a limited budget, she said.

“That’s just life.

But she believes there would have been a better outcome with parents’ involvement earlier in the process.

“As we talked to parents at other schools, and the more we dove into this topic, we found out how universal these concerns were, and they were expressed by parents of disabled and able-bodied children,” Van Doormaal said.

Parents of kids at Mackenzie, Renfrew and Dickens elementary schools offered stories with Postmedia News that had common elements. The district recently installed new play areas at their kids’ schools that were purported to be accessible, but designed without consultation with advisory councils, they said.

Parents said these upgrades seem like missed opportunities to improve accessibility: Despite their preference for more accessible rubber surfaces, artificial turf was installed and has proved inaccessible for kids with certain mobility challenges, effectively excluding them from these play areas.

It is a systemic issue, said Robyn Schindel, whose seven-year-old son has also found the new artificial turf at Mackenzie difficult to access with his wheelchair.

Schindel is a member of the inclusive education working group at the Vancouver district parent advisory, which recently lodged a complaint with the school district over its failure to create an accessibility plan or convene an accessibility committee, a year and a half past the legislated deadline for doing so.

The Accessible British Columbia Act, introduced in 2021 by the B.C. NDP, required public sector organizations, including local school districts, to create accessibility committees and plans by September 2023. The parent group’s letter points out that while some other Lower Mainland school districts such as Surrey, Burnaby, North Vancouver have publicly released their own accessibility plans, Vancouver does not yet have one.

“The delay in getting this process started underscores the district’s systemic challenges that are undermining the learning potential of our children,” says the group’s February letter, which also accuses the district of “a history of delaying systemic change in the arena of improving inclusive education.”

Since the letter, Schindel said her group has seen “the slightest of slight upticks” of interest from the district, including a meeting with Vancouver school board chair Victoria Jung.

But the lack of progress and overall experience have been discouraging, she said. “It feels like they’re doing the bare minimum and I’m supposed to jump for joy.”

Vancouver school district spokesperson Jiana Chow said the district has not directly heard any negative feedback from four schools other than Dickens about the new playground turf.

Students with sensory needs, such as autism spectrum disorder, can benefit from artificial turf, Chow said, adding that rubberized surfaces cost about 25 per cent more than artificial turf, which means “installing a rubberized surface would have taken funds away from another project at another school.”

The Vancouver school district’s new accessibility committee held its first meeting on Feb. 27, 2024, Chow said, and is now “in the process of co-creating a comprehensive accessibility plan that reflects the diverse needs of our community.”

“Although in its formative stage, this plan will progressively integrate broader community engagement, ensuring that a spectrum of voices shapes the outcome,” Chow said. “We understand the urgency of these matters, and in the interim, we’ve offered an ongoing channel for feedback via accessibility@vsb.bc.ca.”

dfumano@postmedia.com

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Original at https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/vancouver-school-district-lagging-behind-on-accessibility-parents-group-says