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School’s out, and as the seasonable months usher in summer fun – festivals, art shows, trips to theme parks, sporting events, concerts, plays, circus and state fairs – make sure your child with Cerebral Palsy is included in the fun and excitement.
Hot fun in the summertime – for all
Once the children put the books away for the summer break, they’re ready to have some fun. And for the most part, their parents, grandparents and other members of the family are ready to join them.
No matter where you live, the seasonable months present many opportunities for fun and relaxation. Festival and fairs come to town. Concerts take place in municipal band shells. Baseball, boat shows and racing gear up. Plays from children’s puppet theater to Shakespeare in the park open their curtains for all to enjoy.
If parents decide a road trip is in order, theme and amusement parks can be wonderful sources of family fun.
Children with Cerebral Palsy – or any other disability, for that matter – are no different. Like all children, the summer months are a time of pent up energy, a chance to meet up with friends, play games, and spend time with the family. If a child’s mobility challenges or physical needs require accommodation, attending the local carnival requires some additional planning beyond determining how many elephant ears and cotton candy a child can consume.
And although public spaces and venues where many events take place are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, local operators that set up weekend events that often move from town to town may not have their eye on accessibility. Even under the best of circumstances, public events are typically packed with people, and getting around dirt paths, congested walkways, and a port-a-potty can be challenge.
Luckily there are strategies that can be employed at such events to ensure that a carefree day of summer fun is a possibility for all children, no matter how their individual challenges affect their mobility. With forethought, parents are empowered to help children engage in new experiences with positive energy, less hassle.
Accessibility under the sun
The Americans with Disabilities Act was implemented to make sure public buildings and places are fully accessible to people with disabilities. The ADA’s accessibility guidelines apply to facilities constructed after the approval of the act.
Additionally, the act also required the removal of barriers from public gathering spaces so people with disabilities can physically maneuver walkways, trails, stairways, and other open spaces.
The accessibility guidelines apply to parks, recreation facilities, performance venues, golf courses, fishing platforms, boating facilities, beaches and amusement park rides. This means that ramps must be in place. Flat ground surfaces without obstructions should be present. And equipment should follow ADA-mandated guidelines for usage by children with disabilities.
However, when a local event comes to town, operators of local festivals who often deal with hundreds of vendors, performers, artists and event details, may unintentionally create situations where there are physical obstructions in a space that is otherwise ADA-compliant.
Suddenly, food carts and stations are situated high off the ground. Isles and pathways are so loaded up with tables and displays with merchandise or food that a wheelchair cannot easily pass. Or, the set-up of a fair or festival is insufficient in terms of easy ingress or egress from the event. Weather conditions, like rain can produce muddy pathways.
Typically, there is no nefarious intention behind this set of circumstances; it’s usually the result of poor planning. But parents that are looking for summer solutions and bonding moments for a child will be happy to know that in most cases, operators of events want all children to have fun.
Even at smaller events that are closer to home, there are some assurances in place that help families with disabled children enjoy outdoors events – and ensure that no child has to miss out on what is a summertime rite of passage.
To help parents plan for a day under the sun, we’ve combined some information that will help parents ensure that their child has a great time:
1. Amusement park rides
Most parents that fear allowing their child to board an amusement park ride can take heart; many of these rides are covered by the ADA, and much thought has been given to implementing designs that make such rides user-friendly for children with disabilities. Accessibility guidelines for newly-altered or newly constructed rides include provisions that provide guidelines and specifications for ride designers to enhance accessibility, though they stop short of offering specific designs. Most stadiums, concert venues, and amusement facilities have disability guidelines posted on their website, or accessible via a phone call.
Rides that are not required to be ADA – compliant, include those in traveling shows, carnivals and fairs; self-operated rides, rides that require a parent to transition the child from wheelchair to seat; and rides that depend on specific forms of ability, such as sight, gripping or hearing. Ask organizers for ride information to navigate your child’s ability with the safety standards of the ride.
Rides that are stationary, however, must provide seating that is suitable and safe for a person with disabilities. The ride must have a mechanism or an overall design that permits easy physical transfer to and from the ride, especially if it is a ride that does not offer wheelchair space. When access means having to use a slope, the degree of that slope is regulated to make sure that it is not too steep for users.
Because children with disabilities may board a ride in a different way than other individuals, operators will often offer a separate line for entry and exit for the individual with a disability. The ADA requires that the point at which that line is formed have adequate signage, so people know where to go to enjoy the ride.
2. Concerts and venues
When tickets are sold at a concert or event, parents have their pick of seating if they make it to the box office soon after tickets go on sale. But what about events like concerts and shows in the park, when seating is first-come, first serve?
Other than arriving at the event soon enough to take advantage of accessible aisle seating, there’s a lot parents can do to make sure their child gets a good seat for the show. If a child is in a wheelchair, he or she can sit next to set-up seating on the aisle with parents or family members without their being a stationary seat in place.
Wheelchair and walker storage can also be an issue, but at some events, a space for storage has been set aside so children or adults can use conventional seating.
Depending on what’s available, and what a child’s needs are, a parent must make a decision that works for all involved. But like any decision a parent makes, they need to know ahead of time what seating is available. Contact event organizers for information and guidance.
3. Medications, emergencies
When spending a day outside at an event, it’s highly likely that a parent will have to provide some care and assistance to a child, especially if a child takes medications on a strict schedule.
If an event is large and well-organized, a medical tent will typically be provided to handle any emergencies. However, a child that takes medication or that needs assistance need not be shuttled off to that tent unless it’s truly necessary.
If it’s possible to administer medication to a child while resting during a picnic lunch, or at a seating area, a child will likely feel better about it than going to a medical tent. A child with disabilities spends so much time in physician’s office already – a fun day at an event is supposed to be an escape from such environments. Picking a private moment or area away from stares and glares is a respectful gesture.
Parking can seem simple enough: You have a disabled tag on the vehicle, which provides eligibility to park in a designated space. But when an event is at a local park, and people are parking on city streets or even in a field, the issue of how to get to and from an event can get complicated, quickly.
Call ahead of time to ask organizers if parking for disabled individuals is available (and if it isn’t ask for their suggested alternative). Ask if there is a reasonable, accessible path to and from the event before heading out for an event, not after. Also, it can be helpful to ask if accessible shuttle service is available from a parking area to the event.
5. A word about the potty
This, unfortunately, can be a thorny issue for families when a child uses a wheelchair. Although fully-functional, air-conditioned, spacious and accessible temporary facilities are available in the marketplace, many summer events provide only the typical porta potty.
The small stalls can be difficult to use because they often cannot accommodate a wheelchair, and if a child needs assistance, they cannot accommodate two people. And because they are temporary structures, they are not covered by the ADA.
But this concern need not derail a family’s plan for fun. If an event is near commercial businesses, it may behoove a parent to take a side trip to one of these locations even if it means making a quick trip away from a festival or event. The important thing is to have a plan in place before going to the festival. Or, asking attendants for guidance upon arrival. Also, if you’re concerned about the facilities, it’s worthwhile to contact the events organizes to find out what provisions are available.
6. Always ask for assistance
Festivals, concerts and other large events are often chaotic, but parents should remember that there are staff members on hand that are interested in ensuring everyone has a good time. That being said, if something is truly impeding a child’s ability to take part in activities like arts, crafts, or games, it’s best to ask staff members what can be done to help streamline a child’s participation.
Sometimes, this can be achieved simply by bringing an issue to a staff member’s attention. If craft tables are so congested into one space that there’s no room for a wheelchair or a walker, they can be moved around. To nearly every problem, there’s a solution.
But staff members cannot address an issue if it has not occurred to them that a problem exists. A non-confrontational conversation is a good place to start. Chances are they have encountered the dilemma many times prior and have wonderful options to implement.
7. Remember you’re there to have fun
A parent can be so concerned about a child’s level of participation that it can be easy to lose sight of why the family decided to venture out on a summer day. It is helpful to remember that some of the best memories are made because the day didn’t always go as planned.
The family is attending the event to have fun, to be entertained, and spend quality time together as a family unit. It’s an opportunity for recreation and bonding that in many towns, comes around only once a year. Of course a parent never wants a situation where a child feels excluded, but if a child’s needs become the centerpiece of the day’s events, he’s likely to feel oddly conspicuous.
Try to make sure that events unfold naturally. If a parent has preformed some research prior to an event, he or she should know what to expect and have a plan to rectify situations that come up unexpectedly. When it comes to summer events, preparation means confidence, and there’s a lot parents can do to make sure they’re day out with their child is one to remember, yet blissfully uneventful.
When a child with a disability reaches adulthood, feelings about acceptance by others may linger. If young people learn to accept themselves during their formative years, explore interests, form friendships, accomplish, interact, and socialize at age-appropriate stages, it can help empower a sense of belonging when they’ve grown.