Cochrane can expect two new initiatives for children living with disabilities one of which is coming from overseas.
Variety Alberta is bringing an Australian educational program to Canada for the first time and piloting it in Cochrane.
“The aim of the program is to make sure children and their teachers, as well as other adults, understand children living with disabilities have the same wants, the same dreams, the same needs as any other children,” said Larry Horeczy, co-managing director/projects with Variety Alberta.
The Australian program, Just Like You, was developed by the Cerebral Palsy Association and is comprised of a series of workshops delivered to primary school aged children to build understanding, acceptance and inclusion of individuals living with a disability.
Horeczy said the program is vital since a lack of understanding amongst children often leaves those children living with disabilities on the sidelines.
“First of all, they are three times more likely to be bullied, so almost 70 per cent of all children with disabilities are bullied on a weekly basis,” explained Horeczy. “In addition, children with disabilities are more isolated, rarely invited to social activities, and they’re also isolated in play so even something as simple as the playground.”
The Australian group that administers Just Like You granted permission to run the workshops on a free licence as a pilot program.
Janna Hands, managing and communications director with Variety Alberta, said the expectation is the program will reduce accessibility barriers to educators.
“We want to make sure the program itself is free for whoever receives it because we don’t want that to be a barrier. That’s where our fundraising comes in,” said Hands, adding one of the goals while establishing the program is to hire people living with disabilities to help present the workshops.
“It’s a positive win for that aspect and then in support of bringing that awareness and helping to normalize what disability can look like.”
The aim is to implement the program at summer camps, out-of-school programs and in the classroom. However, it is still in its preliminary stages and there has not been any official conversations among Cochrane schools and Variety Alberta.
The second in initiative is upgrading a popular community park into an inclusive playground the not-for-profit is planning in conjunction with the town.
Centennial Park playground will be revamped and converted as early as July 2018.
The playground is slated to cost roughly $550,000, which Variety Alberta is fundraising for as well as providing a donation.
The town is supporting the project with an in-kind donation, which will cover the equipment removal and creating accessible pathways. In addition, the project’s management and upkeep will be the town’s responsibility.
So far $80,000 has been raised according to Variety Alberta’s website. To donate or learn more go to http://varietyalberta.ca/centennial-park-in-cochrane/