No accessible playground at Lake Cowichan School ‘heartbreaking’ for kids with disabilities, family says


Two families of children with physical challenges are calling for changes at their Lake Cowichan school.

Both boys, 11-year-old Oliver Finlayson and nine-year-old Devon Van Dyk, have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare genetic disorder that impacts their mobility and keeps them from being able to play on the school playground.

Their families have been asking for money to build a more accessible playground for years, but the wait continues and the boys remain on the outside.

Finlayson and Van Dyk say they would like to be with their friends on breaks from class, but can’t access it because of a number of reasons including the fact that it sits on a bed of gravel.

“With Duchenne muscular dystrophy I can’t do a lot, I can’t run really fast and I need this to get around,” said Van Dyk, referring to his wheelchair. “I can still go on the swing set but the playground just isn’t that accessible.”

“There’s gravel so I can’t get anywhere near it,” said Finlayson.

Both boys say the playground has put up a barrier that has impacted their friendships, which is difficult to accept.

“Kind of like, sad and upset at the same time ’cause I can’t really get to where my friends are sometimes,” said Finlayson.

Two boys in mobility scooters are shown next to each other

Nine-year-old Devon Van Dyk and 11-year-old Oliver Finlayson both have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which means they are often separated from their friends who play on the non-accessible playground at Lake Cowichan School during recess and lunch. Nov. 4, 2022.

The boys’ parents have been advocating for an accessible playground at Lake Cowichan School for years.

“It’s heartbreaking to have to send him to school and have him be isolated from his peers,” said Aime Mattice-Finlayson, Oliver’s mother.

“The majority of people that I’ve talked to this through the school district, everyone brings it down to a price tag. That should not be the case.”

The Cowichan Valley School District says this playground has been the board’s top priority for a number of years.

“I know last year we submitted an application. Unfortunately, we weren’t successful in that application to have that playground renovated into an accessible playground,” said Mike Russell, the Cowichan Valley School District’s director of communications. “We’re definitely applying again this year in hopes the results are different.”

In a statement, B.C.’s Ministry of Education says it has invested $30 million into 231 new playgrounds in the last five years, and right now, ministry staff are working to review capital plans to prioritize projects for Budget 2023.

The families would like a solution before the fleeting time that the kids can enjoy playgrounds passes.

This past year, three Vancouver Island schools received funding for accessible playgrounds. Lake Cowichan School was not one of them.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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