Disabled children’s play area opens in Cork

The country’s first fully inclusive play area for children with physical disabilities was officially opened in Cork today.

The Crann Center in Ovens supports people with neuro-physical disabilities such as spina bifida and muscular dystrophy.

The play area, which cost €500,000, was designed with University College Cork’s occupational therapy department in consultation with families who use the centre.

Kate Jarvey, the Centre’s founder, said the real meaning of inclusiveness is seeing able-bodied children and children with disabilities playing together.

“That’s how we break the stigma, we can do it here, now, and we do it,” she said.

David Griffin, Kate Jarvey, Brendan Murphy, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Kate Crowley and Padraig Mallon

With fully accessible swings and rides, the play area also features a pirate ship, trampoline and rickety bridge as well as fully accessible restrooms and changing rooms, a quiet space and a family recreational area designed for picnics and barbecues.

Crann Center general manager Padraig Mallon said the motivating factor for the playground was the fact that families didn’t have access to a playground where they could, as a family, come and play or be together. .

“It’s going to be really good for fitness, it’s going to be really good for adaptive physical activity, but mostly it’s for the game,” he said.

Alice Moore, an occupational therapist and doctoral researcher at UCC who helped design the playground, said the project is seen as the exception to the norm when it really should be the norm.

“All the guidelines and all the standards tell us that it should be universal design. That means design for everyone and design for inclusion. Too many playgrounds tell us there is accessible and inclusive if there is a component that is perhaps accessible – but ultimately it is not, it is segregation, it is exclusion.

“Everyone should be able to participate and feel like they belong in a space and this (Crann Center Playground) does just that,” she said.

For Kate Crowley, 14, from Douglas in Cork, today was her first time on a swing and she was thrilled.

Kate Crowley on the swing

“Now I can go on and it’s just amazing to enjoy it and be like everyone else,” Kate said.

The crown jewel is the MV Hilarium, a wheelchair-accessible pirate ship that gives kids with different needs the chance to take risks and climb to the top of the ship.

It was built by a team of volunteers led by Terry O’Neill, whose late son Cathal, who had spina bifida, was his inspiration.

“Today is bittersweet because he would love it, even today (the official opening) would have been his cup of tea,” Mr O’Neill said.

Harold B. McConnell