Meant for children with autism, intellectual impairment and cerebral palsy

The merry-go-round slowly squeaks to a halt but Manish is reluctant to step off it. For the 12-year-old with dwarfism and deformed limbs, it is the first summer of his life when he has played carefree in a park. In the past few days, Manish has been able to swing or spin in the merry-go-round, thanks to the specially modified equipment for children with special needs, at the newly opened park on ECR Road.

The play park on ECR Road established by Satya Special School with funding from Chemins d’enfances, an international organisation, will open its gates to all children in Puducherry, particularly those with disabilities including autism, intellectual impairment and cerebral palsy, this month.

Though the right to play is recognised by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, play facilities in schools, parks, restaurants and game zones overlook the needs of children with disabilities. Few special schools have their own play grounds and when they close for the summer, children are left with no recreational activities.

“I usually play carom and pallanguzhi, but it is fun to swing,” says Nateshwari. Those bound to a wheelchair like her, can play on the swing, by wheeling up the ramp and locking the chair. For children who have little or no control of balance, including those with autism and mental retardation, the park boasts a variety of swings — with safety belts, with bars and the deep trowel-like nest swing for children who lost all mobility.

Students from the University of Iowa have helped in research and designing the equipment which was made in Chennai. International standards in creating specially modified equipment have been followed with alterations to suit Indian climate, says Chitra Shah, director of the school.

“The idea is to get these kids to play outdoors. Most of them are embarrassed to come out and play due to the stigma.” Merry-go-rounds with bucket seats, fibre-glass slides and sand pits for increasing stimulation are set up in the park to increase concentration, improve balance, reduce hyperactivity and enhance social and communication skills.

“I have taken my child only once to a park,” says Amala, mother of a six-year old girl with Downs Syndrome, who felt uncomfortable when her child’s disability was scorned. “But the support seats here have diminished her fear and she feels safer.”

Though the park can be a model, true inclusivity can be achieved only if public parks like the Bharathi Park and those in residential areas take steps to include one or two specially-modified equipment.

If engineering students can come up with low-cost equipment for children with special needs and corporates sponsor them, children with special needs can truly enjoy their right to play.

The play park is open to all children between 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer.

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