Over the weekend my Facebook feed was filled with the story of four-year-old Eloise who has cerebral palsy and was denied entry to the Funmazing Playcentre in Guelph, Ont., because she had to wear ankle foot orthotics to support her mobility. According to her dad, Matthew Dupuis, the playground owner informed him that Eloise couldn’t climb the three-storey padded jungle gym because her shoes would damage the equipment.
Dupuis left and took Eloise to Bingemans FunworX in Kitchener, where they enjoyed their visit without incident. But later, Dupuis and his wife, Tracy, took to social media, which led to news coverage. On Monday, the family filed a formal complaint against Funmazing Playcentre with the Ontario human rights tribunal.
It's important to note that the Dupuis family had visited the centre several times before and Eloise’s needs were always accommodated. This time, however, the staff wouldn’t budge. They said Eloise could access "other parts" of Funmazing, but not the play centre with the jungle gym. Are you kidding me? That’s like putting a giant chocolate cake in front of my four-year-old daughter, then pulling out some broccoli and saying, “Well, here’s this awesome chocolate cake—but you can’t have that."
The initial reaction from Funmazing was unacceptable. Originally, the centre stated that they were worried about their equipment. If a pair of shoes can damage their equipment, they need to seriously think about the quality of their jungle gym. Later on, Funmazing changed its statement, citing safety concerns.
While safety—for Eloise and the other kids—is something to be taken seriously, couldn’t they have had a conversation with the parents and arrived at a conclusion that made sense? The Dupuis' could have slipped a larger pair of socks over Eloise’s shoes or maybe used a kid-size version of disposable booties. I'm sure they could have found some common ground. I just don’t understand why they seemed to shut down the family so quickly.
When Tracy Dupuis called Funmazing owner Gio Salgo to ask her to reconsider her decision, she refused. It was a huge misstep on Salgo's part to not recognize the severity of the situation. Yesterday, after social media backlash again the play centre, Funmazing issued an apology to the Dupuis family on their Facebook page, and revealed their plans to work closely with KidsAbility and the play structure manufacturer to accommodate shoes for all special needs individuals. "Once again, we offer our deepest apologies to all those who were hurt and offended by what happened," the statement concludes. "We view this as a learning experience, and look forward to creating a more inclusive environment in the future."
I caught myself wondering if they would consider my daughter Syona’s wheelchair a safety concern—after all, it's heavy and could be tipped over. Would Funmazing deny her access too?
When Syona was much younger we visited an indoor playground and, upon arrival, I explained that she needed to wear shoes. The staff told me that sometimes shoes can stick to the equipment, causing kids to literally go hand over feet. I told them I would be doing everything with Syona and she would be sitting on my lap, so there really wasn’t an issue. They agreed and in we went. We followed a similar scenario at her friend’s birthday party—in fact, the hosts had already had those conversations with staff in advance. (Yes, we have some awesome friends.)
Accommodations don’t always have to come with a price. Sometimes they just require a resolution that makes sense for everyone. Funmazing really blew it on this one, while Bingemans FunworX has become the hero for giving Eloise access to play.
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