Since its opening in late 2019, the all-inclusive playground at Heights Park in Beaconsfield has become a community gathering space for children and residents of all ages and abilities.
The city unveiled the extensively renovated park during its official inauguration on Oct. 26, 2019, where residents and local dignitaries mingled and played on the new bocce courts, tried out the Trekfit fitness stations, and snacked on superhero-themed cupcakes and hot chocolate.
Among those eagerly awaiting the opening of the park was Tania Faustino da Costa and her two children, 5-year-old Elliot and 3-year-old Ethan. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Ethan had previously had limited options where he could play with his brother and peers.
“As a parent of a child with special needs I can tell you how painful it can be to go to a regular playground. All Ethan can do there is sit on his chair and watch while the others have fun,” Faustino da Costa said
“Play is so important in the development of a child, and even more crucial for special needs kids,” she added. “Through play they develop social and motor skills and language, they stimulate their vestibular system, build self-esteem, and so much more.”
A first for Beaconsfield
The inclusive Heights Park is the first of its kind in Beaconsfield, and one of only a few in the West Island where children with special needs can play alongside their friends, and engage in a wide variety of activities that support their physical, cognitive, and sensory development.
The park came about following the recommendations set out in the city’s 2017 Parks and Green Spaces Master Plan. In the plan, a number of playgrounds where equipment and accessibility might be improved were identified, and Beaconsfield selected Heights Park as a priority project.
“Heights Park is really a hidden gem—surrounded by a beautiful forest, a school, baseball diamonds, and a soccer field—and the park structures really needed an update,” said Beaconsfield Culture and Leisure section head Annie Bouthillier.
The final park design was developed through online suggestions, public consultations—both off site, and with an evening visit to the park—and through the input of Faustino da Costa, who was instrumental in its design by suggesting products and features that would meet the needs of a diverse population.
“The city was great in opening the original design for suggestions from the residents, and I felt I just had to go share my ideas, since my family would certainly use the park often,” said Faustino da Costa. “The city listened and took into consideration what the residents were saying.”
The initial design changed substantially throughout the consultation process
“We really overhauled the whole plan,” said Bouthillier. “What we thought we knew about inclusivity, well, we didn’t know enough. When Ms. Faustino da Costa came with her suggestions, she really helped shape the vision, and gave it the right direction. The consultations were the key to creating this park for the users.”
“Ms. Faustino da Costa really provided key feedback, and today we can see the results of that. “
The new designs developed for the playground feature engaging products to improve motor and cognitive skills, and social play between friends and families.
Among the numerous pieces of new equipment is an accessible merry-go-round, a tandem swing with an adaptive seat, a raised sand table alongside the traditional sandbox, ground-level sensory play panels, as well as Braille and auditory elements.
Wheelchair-friendly picnic tables and soft mobility-friendly surfacing ensure that this park meets the needs of children and caregivers who use mobility aids.
The city also incorporated new-to-the-West-Island items, such as the Trekfit “Bamboo Jungle” that’s tucked into the woods.
“We wanted to have things that were different and to avoid what we already had in our other parks,” explained Bouthillier.
Residents are pleased with the new community space
Since cutting the ribbon at the inauguration, Faustino da Costa and her family have returned to the park to play, and are very happy with the final outcome.
“It’s beautiful and my son has had several opportunities to play together with the other kids,” she said.
“I encourage all parents to talk to their cities about inclusiveness in their parks and playgrounds. Not only parents of kids with special needs, but of typical kids too. Everyone wins when we have a space with more diversity.”
All photos by Christine Latreille