Playground in Sembawang caters to children with special needs

It has wheelchair-friendly features and swing seats that allow kids to be secured

Singapore's first "inclusive" playground - catering to children with special needs - is now ready.

At the 600 sq m playground in Canberra Park in Sembawang, there are wheelchair-friendly features such as a ramp and handrails, panels with bells and drums to cater to the visually handicapped and swing seats that can secure children with physical disabilities.

Among the regular slides, swings and an overhead ladder, there is also a sensory motion feature which allows wheelchair users to sit inside and experience a swaying sensation without having to transfer out of their seats.

The next step? Getting the children to go.

Disability experts welcome the new facility, but some feel greater awareness and outreach is needed to get children with disabilities to join in the fun.

Indeed, during two visits to the playground in the last two weeks, SundayLife! did not see any special-needs children playing there.

Mr Raja Singh, 53, director of DNR Wheels, which provides disability and rehabilitative equipment, says children with disabilities tend to be shy, have low self-esteem and do not participate readily in play activities.

Adds Mr Singh, who is a wheelchair user: "Parents may also be afraid their children will get injured. It'll take a lot of effort and encouragement for them to participate in activities."

Mr Abhimanyau Pal, 49, executive director of SPD, an organisation representing people with disabilities, says building the playground is "a positive step", but hopes that there will be greater publicity of the amenities.

Dr Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills, 34, executive director of the Disabled People's Association, suggests that schools close to the playground and organisations which help people with disabilities might consider organising an outing to the playground.

She says: "Publicising the accessible transport routes to this playground through maps or guides will also encourage people to go and use the playground."

The playground's location, in the far north of Singapore, is also an issue.

Take, for instance, the case of beautician Xin Xiu Lian, 33, whose 10-year-old son Jia Wei has a genetic disease which limits muscle control and uses a wheelchair. They live in Yishun.

She says: "The playground is good news, for sure, since Jia Wei can now play there with his seven-year-old brother. Usually, Jia Wei just sits by the side and watches. But the playground is still 30 minutes away from our flat by public transport and I'll need to find the time to take him there."

Responding to suggestions, the area's Member of Parliament Dr Lim Wee Kiak acknowledged that there is insufficient public awareness of the new playground as the park opened only a month ago.

He says: "There will be articles on the new playground in the newsletters of our town council and our constituency and communication with our residents."

The playground is part of a $2.2-million upgrade of Canberra Park. Dr Lim had lobbied for an inclusive playground to cater to a wide variety of children, including those with special needs.

Construction took over a year, with equipment supplied by local company CT-Art Creation and made mostly by Playworld Systems, a manufacturer of fitness and playground equipment in the United States, which has built inclusive playgrounds in Alabama, Idaho and Virginia.

For those who find the Canberra Park playground out of the way, there is good news: A second inclusive playground at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is in the works.

This will be modified from an existing playground by the National Parks Board and the National Council of Social Service this month and is expected to open by August this year.

According to a joint statement from the two organisations, the playground will have a wheelchair-friendly merry- go-round, a wheelchair swing as well as a slide that provides additional tactile stimulations using rollers.

The council will reach out to the community, special-education schools and volunteers to promote the use of the playground and work with community partners to create programmes centred on the playground for children with special needs.

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