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FOR DISABLED KIDS; A PLACE TO TO PLAY; COUPLE AIMING FOR `BOUNDLESS' FACILITY.

Byline: Dennis McCarthy

It's a dirty little charade we've been playing on physically disabled kids - giving them access ramps to the play areas in city parks, but not giving them any special equipment they can play on.

Allowing them to get close enough in their wheelchairs, on crutches and leg braces to watch able-bodied children play and have fun, but not giving them the means to have some of that fun themselves. Providing them no special equipment they can play on side by side with their able-bodied brothers, sisters and friends.

It is why we do not see more physically disabled children in city parks, the parents and grandparents of these children say. They'd love to bring them, but why? Just to watch other kids play? No, emotionally that's just too tough to handle, they say. For all of them.

It stinks, this little charade, and if the Los Angeles City Council does the right thing next week, it will finally come to an end someday soon. And we'll all have the memory of a baby named Shane to thank for it.

The happiest day of their lives turned into the saddest in a matter of hours in March for Catherine Curry-Williams and her husband, Scott Williams, of Valley Village.

Their first baby, a boy named Shane, was born paralyzed, with a genetic disorder called spinal muscular atrophy. If he lived - and it was a big if, the doctors said - he would spend the rest of his life paralyzed, in a wheelchair.

``Our first thought after the shock wore off was, what will we do?'' Catherine said. ``Our second thought was, we will do whatever we have to do to make the best life for our son. Unfortunately, we never got the opportunity to take him home and begin our lives together.''

Two weeks after he was born, Shane died. And a young mother and father went home to begin their grieving.

They were still hurting badly almost two months later when a relative sent them a story she had read about a special playground in Hartford, Conn. It was called a ``boundless playground'' and was named after a little boy named Jonathan, who had also died from spinal muscular atrophy.

Reading that story was the first time Catherine and Scott realized that had Shane lived, they would not have been bringing him to any of their own neighborhood parks to play in the playground area with other kids.

``We knew he'd be in a wheelchair, but we never thought he'd never have the chance to play and interact with other kids,'' she said. ``That he would be segregated, sitting alone on the sidelines, just watching. We thought this was a travesty.''

So, in Shane's memory, Catherine, Scott and Tiffany Harris, a close friend, set out to end this travesty for the physically disabled kids in their city. If Hartford could have a boundless park for all its kids, why couldn't Los Angeles?

They began a group called Shane's Inspiration - (818) 752-5676 - and enlisted the help of family and friends to begin raising funds for special playground equipment available from the National Resource Center of Boundless Playgrounds.

The next step was finding a park. That's where Councilman Mike Feuer from the 5th District came in. He did some research and found there were only two children's play areas affiliated with the city's Department of Recreation and Parks' Therapeutic Recreation Centers that were wheelchair-accessible.

``But their design, location and small size did not provide an opportunity for a good play experience for most disabled children, nor allow them to interact with able-bodied children,'' Feuer said.

The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. ``We've been pretending that parks are handicapped-accessible by creating ramps, but once the kids get there, there's no equipment for them to play on,'' Feuer said. ``Think how frustrating that is.''

That frustration poured out Wednesday afternoon in front of the council's Arts, Health and Humanity Committee, which Feuer chairs.

Parents, grandparents, siblings and friends of physically disabled kids in Los Angeles came forward to talk about the frustration - the dirty little charade.

A little girl stood in front of the committee and slapped this city right across the face.

``How would you feel if you couldn't play in the park with your disabled brother?'' she asked. Nobody said a word.

By the time the meeting ended, 2 acres of land near the merry-go-round in Griffith Park was being talked about as a perfect place for the first boundless park in Los Angeles.

Next week, the motion to make our dirty little charade disappear will go before the full City Council for a vote. If the people who run this city know what's good for them, they won't dare say no to that little girl with the disabled brother.

``What an honor and blessing this will be to see this park become a reality,'' Catherine said Thursday. ``To know that the short life of our son could mean so much to all the children of this city.''

Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

CAPTION(S):

photo

PHOTO From left, Scott Williams, Catherine Curry-Williams and 5th District Councilman Mike Feuer are pushing for a playground for disabled children on a 2-acre site near the Griffith Park merry-go-round.

Michael Owen Baker/Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 16, 1998
Words:888
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