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December 7, 2017

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‘Inclusive’ playgrounds benefit disabled children

SHRIEKS of laughter by non-disabled and disabled children having fun together at Hungarian playgrounds are becoming more common thanks to some determined parents turned innovative designers.

“Disabled kids have the right to play too,” said Eszter Harsanyi, 44, one of the co-founders of MagikMe, a start-up designing playground equipment.

Her son, Aron, 7, was born with epilepsy and for years had to sit and watch his non-disabled brother bounding through playground climbing frames, or joshing in sandpits.

Now he too can join in at some 30 playgrounds in Budapest — and another 30 nationwide — that have installed MagikMe equipment.

“It helps Aron a lot to mingle with able-bodied peers,” Harsanyi said as she helped him onto a funky bright red modified see-saw called the “Butterfly.”

With two extra legs for laying on, and hand-grips and “wings” along the sides to prevent falls, children can climb out of wheelchairs or be laid down to enjoy the ride without needing a helper to hold them.

“It’s also safe for non-disabled babies who cannot sit up yet,” Harsanyi said.

Harsanyi, and four other parents with disabled children, hatched the idea in 2013.

“We were frustrated that our kids — disabled and non-disabled — played happily together at home but couldn’t at the playground,” she said.

After bringing a designer friend on board and setting up a firm in 2014, a key part of the parents’ mission was making the equipment cool for able-bodied kids too.

Another piece, an elevated sandbox called “Dune,” allows children to dig together standing up or laying down.

Such “inclusive” playgrounds can make society more tolerant in the long-run, Harsanyi believes.

“Playing together shows healthy children what it means to be different, and how to talk, laugh, listen to, and even touch disabled kids,” she said.

Another parent at the playground, Arpad Koncz, said he was “surprised and saddened” to learn that most playground equipment is effectively off-limits to disabled kids who cannot sit unassisted.

“The first time my (non-disabled) child met someone who is different from her was here,” he said.

“It’s good that they experience that early in life.”

As well as designing new sensory and tactile equipment, the firm plans to branch out to neighboring Austria and Slovakia, and further afield, Harsanyi revealed.

“Lack of playground access for disabled kids is not a Hungarian problem, but a global one,” she added.

Last Sunday was the International Day of Disabled Persons, which aims to promote understanding and awareness of disability issues.


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