Two-and-a-half-year-old Ananth was excited at the sight of the colourful playground in his neighbourhood park, equipped with slides, swings, merry-go-rounds, see-saws, and children. But Ananth couldn’t play on these rides easily as he is an autistic child. And that’s how his mother Kavitha Krishnamoorthy’s entrepreneurial journey began – to create shared play spaces in India, so that children like Ananth would never have to sit against their will and watch his peers play.
In 2005 Kavitha founded Kili-Kili – a non-profit that builds playgrounds for children with special needs. Kili-Kili in Kannada means the ‘warbling laughter of a child’. Kavitha is striving towards a world where every child, regardless of their ability, can access play spaces and eventually pave way to an inclusive society.
Kavitha poses a simple question:
How often do you see a disabled child in a park?
India has close to 20.42 lakh disabled children. They go to ‘special’ schools and have negligible or no access that could allow them to explore public spaces. This results in social exclusion that creates attitudinal barriers – the consequences of which a disabled person has to bear for life.
Kavitha works with the government’s urban development authorities and utilises only allocated funds to create disabled-friendly parks. She says, “Constructing a single park would cost anywhere between Rs 5 and 15 lakh depending upon the size, existing play equipment, and needs. The benefits are immense; children get an opportunity to socially interact, they improve their gross and fine motor skills, which are necessary for development.”
In 2005, Coles Park, one of the city’s most beautiful parks, was chosen and Kavitha designed this only after taking inputs from both children with disabilities and professionals (special educators, developmental paediatricians, occupational therapists) who work with these children. Kavitha says, “Children have the capacity to contribute in matters that affect their lives and well-being.” Innumerable suggestions such as swings that can accommodate a wheel chair, slides with railings and ramps, stage for cultural activities, equipment with sound for visually-impaired children to enjoy, poured in. After two rounds of consultations and with the support of BBMP, the city got India’s first disabled-friendly park in 2006. The revamped Coles Park play area had slides with elevated sides so that children could feel secure, safer swings and a ramp at the entrance among many other things.
Bengaluru now has India’s highest number of disabled-friendly parks – a total of three. There are three more such parks nationally – one each in Mumbai, Nagpur, and Mangalore. These parks are accessed by more than 7,000 children. Creating a park is only the first step, but the next is to ensure that parents and children use these parks which, Kavitha says, was a difficult task. That’s how a range of programmes around ‘inclusive play’ were introduced in the city, such as Family’s Day Out, Buddy Programmes and Weekday School Programmes. Kavitha says,
The aim is to bring together all stakeholders; parents, teachers, and children (with and without disabilities). During our inclusive events, children with and without disabilities are grouped under the guidance of a trained volunteer. This helps children gain confidence to use our ingenious equipment and also forge new relationships. When you do this over a time, disability is viewed as normal.
Kavitha’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Today, a number of schools approach her to create these inclusive spaces within the school’s premises. She has already worked with six schools in the city with many in the pipeline. But when you ask Kavitha about her vision, she says,
Kili-Kili should become redundant. There should be enough people and resources to build such spaces without us having to advocate.
She is already on her way to doing that.
Along with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, she is coming out with an extensive manual that would cover the following.
“The idea is that this ready tool can be accessed by anyone – government agencies, schools, parents, and entrepreneurs. And then you wouldn’t need me to create these spaces,” says Kavitha.