by STACEY HEANEY
A NUMBER of local mums have come together to launch a campaign which they hope will one day see a dedicated park catering for children with special needs in Lisburn.
Diane Joss, the mother of five-year-old Heidi who has Cerebral Palsy, and Susan Kyle, whose three-year-old son Daniel has recently been diagnosed with Autism, are hoping other local parents will now join the campaign.
The pair, along with a group of parents, met Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson last Friday to discuss the issue, outlining the steps needed to get special needs play equipment fitted in all local parks and their hopes to one day have a park dedicated to those with special needs.
Speaking after the meeting Diane said: "I also met recently with Alan Poots, the Capital Projects Officer at Lisburn City Council, to ask the council to put equipment in Wallace Park for disabled children. As a result two swings are now being put in as well as the roundabout which is already there."
Diane came up with the idea for the campaign after discovering how difficult it is to take Heidi to the park. Her little girl needs to be strapped into the play facilities for protection. Diane said, "I mentioned it to Susan so the two of us decided to take it on board. We have spoken to other mothers and we are hoping to get as many parents as possible involved."
The pair are beginning a petition calling on the council to provide specialist equipment in all parks as a first step.
"We just want to get as much support as possible," said Diane. "The more people behind us the better it will be. We need people to let us know what kinds of facilities they think we will need.
"The good weather is coming and without the proper facilities our children will not be able to play. They are just children and they want to join in."
Susan added: "We would like parks to be accessible to as many special needs groups as possible to enable all children to integrate and play together. We will be distributing petitions asking Lisburn City Council to provide the facilities our children need and w invite everyone to support it. We would also urge any families who need these facilities to get in touch at email@example.com with ideas for equipment which their children would benefit from. "My son Daniel has Autism and he loves to play alongside his sister, but with swings he needs to be strapped in to ensure his safety as his actions are unpredictable. That's just one example and we would like to cater to all kinds of disabilities, whether it is Autism, Cerebral Palsy, mobility or sight problems. We would like to have swings, slides, roundabouts, sensory equipment to allow these children to enjoy the park and a park and allow them to play with their siblings."
Mr Donaldson said he was delighted to meet the parents.
"There is often no equipment suitable for children with disabilities which means they are unable to enjoy the play park in the same way as other children" he said. "Lisburn council did include some specialist equipment in the recent upgrade of Wallace Park and we are anxious to see if other equipment can be provided during upgrades to other parks across the city.
"We also discussed the possibility of a specialist park being provided in the future that would cater specifically to children with special needs. We intend to talk to the council and the education authorities about this to see if they can plan such provision in their schemes for the future." A spokesperson for Lisburn Council said it 'endeavours to do its very best to cater for children of all abilities' within its play parks and continues to liaise with a range of agencies and interested groups on play provision in the City.
"Across the Council-owned play parks, there is already a range of play equipment that is suitable for use by children with disabilities. The Council will continue to look at ways of increasing such provision" they said.