A family are delighted their disabled son can now enjoy an accessible swing in his local park after they appealed to a councillor for help.
Karen and Kris Procek, who live in Bonnybridge, say that having a suitable swing in the park makes a huge difference to their son, Rory, aged 11.
Rory, who was diagnosed pre-birth with a rare chromosome disorder, has profound and multiple learning difficulties and is unable to sit unaided on a swing.
The family are also pleased to hear that more play areas will be made inclusive for all children to enjoy.
Mum Karen said: “It’s one of the things that he absolutely loves when he goes to the park.
“We’ve been squeezing him into those baby chairs but he’s now 11 and he’s a big boy and we just can’t do it anymore – for his safety and our safety, trying to lift him out.”
They were frustrated that their nearby playpark in the Milnquarter area – just two minutes from their home – was unsuitable for Rory so decided to ask their local councillor to step in.
Councillor Bryan Deakin was “super-supportive”, they say, and the family were amazed that a new swing was in place within a few weeks.
Now, Falkirk Council say they have funding that has allowed them to purchase a stock of accessible swings and roundabouts – and work has started to make sure there is at least one accessible playground in each council ward.
This is very positive news for Kris and Karen, who believe strongly that access to play is a fundamental human right.
But Karen stresses that the ‘seat-swing’ which “works for Rory” will not be suitable for every disabled child.
“I think that’s the really important part,” she said.
“We have so many children with disabilities who have different needs so it’s not a case that having a seat-swing in every park makes it inclusive – it doesn’t.
“What we need to have within the local authority is access to different things that will suit different needs.”
But they have been heartened to see the new play area in Zetland Park, which has several features suitable for disabled children, including a wheelchair swing, while the large ‘pirate ship’ is also fully accessible.
Karen said: “The thing that makes it so valuable for us is that it all feels normal so that families like ours don’t feel like an afterthought – they feel included in the original vision and not just added on.
“That’s really what we want all our parks to be – a place where all disabled and non-disabled children can play together.”
Kris is concerned that parents of disabled children have to fight for things other parents take for granted.
Kris said: “For me, it seems to be a bit of a postcode lottery at the moment for where children can go.”
He points out that a similar seat-swing in another Bonnybridge park, Jenny’s Park, was installed after the Community Council fundraised for it.
He said: “I found that really strange because no other parent would have to go to such lengths.”
Karen added: “Our disabled children are entitled to play as well and for families like ours we just find that tends to be more of a struggle – we really have to think about where we take our children to play.”
The couple also say that it is crucial for the needs of disabled children to be thought about from the design stage, when new parks are being created.
Karen says that in her experience disabled children have too often been “an afterthought” when facilities are put in – such as Helix Park in Falkirk, where there is a separate section with accessible equipment.
She said: “It needs to be considered at the beginning and consultation needs to happen with parents and carers.”
Even consultation does not guarantee results – they were frustrated to be consulted about designs for Callendar Park play area, only to be told there was no cash for most of their requests.
They hope that the success of Zetland Park will just be the start of a more positive experience for families of disabled children.
And Kris hopes that others will see that the new seat-swing shows that small changes can be made that make a massive difference to children’s lives.
“It will increase accessibility – not just for Rory, but for others as well,” he said.
Councillor Bryan Deakin said: “I am delighted that after discussion with council officers that we have been able to install at Greenhill Park as part of the wider parks upgrade an inclusive swing. This will have huge impact on the lives of those that were otherwise unable to use the park.”
Falkirk Council has made a further pledge to make sure that disabled children are no longer excluded when it comes to new parks and play equipment.
A spokesperson for Falkirk Council said: “Work to improve the accessibility of our play areas has been ongoing for some time. Last year we delivered the Council area’s first fully inclusive play area as part of the Lottery-funded Zetland Park project in partnership with Play as One Scotland.
“In addition, using funding from the Scottish Government’s Play Renewal Fund, we have purchased a stock of accessible swings and roundabouts. Work is ongoing to install these this financial year to ensure that there is at least one accessible playground in each council ward.
“Going forward, as part of our play area renewal programme, we will be asking play designers to design with accessibility in mind, to make sure our play areas are more inclusive and suitable for disabled and neurodiverse children.
“This financial year we are planning to renew play areas at Limerigg, Southview in Stenhousemuir, Lauriston Public Park and the Gala Park in Dunipace.”