All Children Can Play: Presentation at the East Asia Disability Studies Forum in Taiwan
About five years ago I saw a person talking about a boy with severe disabilities, stating “He has no reaction” at a hospital. The child with a ventilator did not seem to move his own body. Even if such child’s brow, eyeball, or thumb has moved slightly, it is impossible to confirm whether he has done so as a result of responding to an approach taken by a person around him. Gradually, such child comes to be recognized as “the child who cannot play” by those around him. Is it true that such child cannot play? What can we do to enable such children to play? It is my research question.
The theme of the East Asia Disability Studies Forum 2018 was “Rights to Play: Disabled People’s Participation in Cultural Life, Recreation, Leisure and Sport” (Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)). It was held in Taiwan, where the Taiwan Society for Disability Studies was established this year. The Forum comprised participants from the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, as well as those from Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan. The session regarding the rights of the children with disabilities was also included in the Forum and I conducted my presentation regarding the support provided by the Hospital Play Specialist (HPS) to enable the children with disabilities to play.
The HPS is a trained and experienced professional who helps children with illness or disabilities proactively get medical care through therapeutic play activities*1. In Japan a training program for the HPS commenced in 2008 and currently approximately 200 persons are qualified as the HPS including me. The HPS in Japan provides therapeutic play activities not only for children with diseases at hospitals but also for children with severe disabilities living at home who have difficulties going out.
Let me provide one example. A third-year boy did not speak and had little expression. It seemed that his parents were not confident of what their child thought about and what they should do for him. They were told by his doctor that the child was probably visually impaired. The HPS played with the child using tools which can trigger his senses including sound, smell, and light. The child did not respond to the HPS, stating “It is fun!” or “I am surprised!” Still, the HPS provided the child with therapeutic play experiences. The important thing is to regard such child as a child and keep talking to him, not to see the aspects of the child’s disabilities (connect the child’s look and response with disabilities). The HPS is regarded as a specialist because she/he has not only a lot of materials and ideas to play but also this viewpoint.
One day the HPS created darkness by surrounding the child with cardboards and put a toy which provided light in it. He looked at the toy, which enabled his parents to obtain hope that the child may be visible. It is possible to find out a child’s individuality through playing with him repeatedly. Such finding about the child changes the way the child communicates with his parents or those around him. What this means is that the child who plays can have influence on his life. My presentation regarding the professional play activities provided for children with severe disabilities interested participants in the Forum. After the presentation, a researcher from the UK, which is the cradle of the HPS, stated that HPSs in Japan has been conducting important initiatives.
The priorities regarding the play for the children vary depending on countries. During my stay in Taiwan, I had the opportunity to visit an inclusive playground in Taipei City, which enables every child to play*2. In its sandbox, a play table is provided so that children in wheelchair can use. And its washing place has no step. Moreover, an accessible route is provided regarding the pathway to the slide so that everyone can reach the top. In addition, there are four swings depending on the age of children and functions. One of them can be used by the children in wheelchair. Furthermore, the inclusive playground has a barrier-free toilet and is also located within 10-minute walk from the subway station to ensure accessibility. It is said that 33 playgrounds in Taipei City have been made inclusive including partial improvement. When I saw children with diverse disabilities playing in the playground, I noticed how existing playgrounds had excluded such children and their parents. There are some possibilities that support the HPS provides for children with severe disabilities at home may be affected by such regulations.
Playing is a free and spontaneous activity. However, not all children play spontaneously. Some children may need support and accommodation in order to play. The Forum provided participants with opportunities to learn possibilities for playing of children with disabilities in different countries. The Forum will be held in Wuhan, China next year. The theme of the Forum will be inclusive society.
- *1: HPS Japan (Japanese only)
- *2: Inclusive playground in Taipei City
- *3: Park-for-all project (Japanese only)