LODI — Four-year-old Emmett Jewell, who has cerebral palsy and a cortical visual impairment, loves to swing and slide.
His mother, Devon Vandyke, said because Emmett is in a wheelchair they rarely come to the park since he can’t use most of the playground equipment.
“I can’t take him down theses slides forever,” Vandyke told FOX40 Thursday. “I’m too big and he’s getting too big for me to carry him up there. He wants to do all of the things that the other kids do.”
Right now, that’s not an option for Emmett or other kids with special needs.
So, Vandyke is launching an effort to bring an all-inclusive park to Lodi.
“Really, we just want equality, we want to feel included. We want to feel like we’re heard and part of the community just like other children,” she said. “He’s a child first before he is, you know, a disabled child. He’s a child who deserves a park that he can play in.”
The city is set to begin work replacing the playground equipment at English Oaks Commons and Beckman Park and is currently undergoing a total rebuild at Candy Cane Park.
“If there are enough funds to rebuild all these parks for typical kids, then there are enough funds to build one park, one park for special needs kids,” Vandyke said.
The city confirmed with FOX40 a wheelchair-accessible swing will be included in Candy Cane Park’s redesign. Vandyke said while the new swing will be appreciated, it isn’t enough.
“It’s just one swing and there are so many handicapped kids in Lodi that would absolutely love to go on swings and slide and would love to play together and have like a fully inclusive park that we can access. We can access the whole park, not just one small portion of it,” she said.
In a statement to FOX40, Lodi’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Jeff Hood says:
We’ve been looking at options for an inclusive playground for several months now. We have a location identified, but don’t believe our current funding is sufficient to construct one at this time.
Vandyke told FOX40 the special needs community and their families feel ignored
“It hurts. It’s very hurtful because our kids are just as important as every other child,” she said. “We’re not asking for anything special or extreme. We just want a park that our kids can play in and enjoy too.”
She said she won’t give up until all kids have a place to play.
“That’s not an option for me. I’m not going to stop pushing for this. This is something that is important for all of our kids,” Vandyke said.