Luke has autism, is non-verbal and has a number of other medical conditions. It wasn’t until the start of the new school year when the sensory playground at John Dolan School opened, things changed.
“To see him inclusive, to see him doing things I didn’t think he was able to do – that he just felt comfortable doing. As a mom watching that, it was heartwarming.”
The idea of this inclusive play structure was started by the school’s parent-council in 2015. That’s when fundraising began for the $583,000 project as well.
At the time, the only equipment that existed at the school was a set of swings the student’s weren’t physically able to use and the importance of having a playground was recognized.
“I come out every day and I watch the students just being kids playing on the playground,” Underwood said. “Before they didnt have access to equipment. If we went to another playground there were places they couldnt go there were things they couldnt touch.”
According to Underwood there’s nothing like it in Western Canada. The playground is entirely wheelchair accessible and features sensory panels, a sensory surface track for therapeutic bikes and, perhaps most unique, a wheelchair swing imported from Australia.
“Everywhere here is for them and thats the biggest piece for me,” Bellamy said. “They have a right to the same access to recreational things in their lives as anyone else does.”
When the playground opened in September, Bellamy remembers Luke trying the swings for the first time in his 12 years. She said there were two other kids on the swings beside him and, seeing him able to do the same things as other kids, thought “this is the definition of inclusion.”
"As a mum, you get all emotional. I think its been about 10 years since shes been on a swing," Esau said.
After about three years of fundraising, the fully accessible sensory playground at John Dolan School officially opened on Wednesday morning.
The park features a wheelchair-accessible swing — imported from Australia — and a variety of different textures to stimulate kids with special needs.
The playground costs $583,000 and was paid for through parents fundraising efforts, the Kinsmen foundation and an anonymous donor. Saskatoons Public School Board said it doesnt cover playground costs.
Before the sensory playground, Esau said she and her daughter would just watch other children play — her wheelchair couldnt get through the sand.
"Our students had nothing to do out here at all. The only piece of equipment that existed was the old swing set, which my students couldnt use, Kathleen Underwood, the John Dolan Schools principal, said.
"We live way across town, but I expect well be driving here quite frequently because this is the only place we can go where she can really enjoy all kinds of things and where she can be like everybody else.
Natasha Esau rides the wheelchair accessible swing at Saskatoons first sensory playground at John Dolan School. (Laura Woodward/CTV Saskatoon)
A rash of parking tickets handed out overnight Wednesday has a Saskatoon business owner feeling frustrated.