All Mayah Abelman wants is to play with her friends.
Since kindergarten, the nine-year-old has been watching from the sidelines as her peers chute down the slide, hang from the monkey bars, and swing to the sky.
She can’t do any of it.
Mayah was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus; she’s paralyzed from the waist down. And because her school’s playground at Evans elementary is not wheelchair accessible, the playground has been off limits for her since starting school.
Her wheelchair cannot get over the cement curb that encases the playground, and the wheels spin out in the wood chips at the first sign of rain.
Some days she goes home angry that her legs don’t work, other days she shrugs; it’s all she’s ever known.
But at the mention of a playground she could play on, her eyes light up as bright as the sun was shining last Thursday afternoon.
“It would be really awesome,” she said, a toothy grin spreading across her face, as the words came flying out.
“I could go on the monkey bars and the spinny thing. I really want to play on the spinny thing. My brother hates to get dizzy, but I love to get dizzy.”
If the school’s playground committee has its way, Mayah will be granted that wish by December 2014.
Evans elementary has submitted an application to the Aviva Community Fund, a Canadian contest that could pay for the entirety of a new playground if the school wins.
With the contest, groups from around the world are encouraged to submit an idea that will promote positive change in their community. There are two rounds of online public voting. The ideas with the most votes move on to the next round, or could even bypass that round and go straight to the semifinals.
Thirty finalists will be selected, winning anywhere from $5,000 to $150,000.
Evans believes its playground has a winning shot.
Out of 308 students, 16 have special needs, and four are mobility impaired.
In its research, the school’s playground committee toured 15 other playgrounds in surrounding neighbourhoods; none were wheelchair accessible.
“What we’re trying to do is make it so this playground is more than just accessible, it’s inclusive,” said Mayah’s mom Natasha Abelman, “meaning, all kids can play together and not feel segregated.”
So far, Evans has raised nearly $17,000 for a playground that would feature several inclusive elements including a bucket seat swing that has a transfer point from wheelchair and walkers; a bucket seat spinner, that also has a transfer point and would encourage vestibular sensory stimulation; monkey bars low enough that a child in a wheelchair could access on their own; and a dome that would provide a quiet space for over-stimulated children needing a break from the hustle and bustle of the playground.
It will also have a rubberized surfacing that wouldn’t lock kids like Mayah out.
This playground won’t just be for the Evans community, it will be available for all to use.
“When you consider that Evans is right dead centre of Chilliwack, this playground would be accessible for kids all over Chilliwack to come and play,” said parent Katrina Eng.
And for moms like Abelman, it would mean peace.
“So many of us moms watch our kids on the playground, and when I see my daughter off to the side watching her friends play, it’s sad, it’s very said,” said Abelman. “You have your moments where you just don’t want to watch. “
A new playground would change that.
In total, the new playground will cost the school $99,840.
Voting is from now until Oct. 14. Anyone with an email can vote once a day, every day. To vote, visit the website www.vote4evans.com.