Veleria Fabiszak, Coronado mother of five, is passionate about making sure people with physical disabilities have the ability to enjoy outdoor space just like people who do not have physical limitations. For Veleria, it’s a cause brought on when her now 16-year-old daughter was two years old and her eldest daughter, Chelsea, was a pre-teen. When Chelsea, now 26 years old, was a small child she was thought to have high functioning autism. It wasn’t until she was nine, after seizures and slipping into a coma state for nine months, that she was eventually diagnosed with Rett syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS). Chelsea is phenomenal in that with her diagnosis was late onset. She does not have the ability to walk or talk, and has limited use of her hands and other motor abilities which most girls with Rett syndrome do not. Boys with this diagnosis generally do not survive.
Chelsea had a love for playgrounds, swings and interacting with her peers from an early age. Her family had purchased a huge backyard piece of play equipment just before she was diagnosed with Rett as a way for community kids and Chelsea to build friendships. Veleria shared this important story with me:
“When Abby, my now 16-year-old daughter was two, I took her to the playground near our home prior to Chelsea’s afternoon at Rady’s for her therapies. Abby wanted her big sister to swing with her. It was the first time that it truly hit me of Chelsea’s inability to do what she most loved and it was now affecting her sister.
“I explained that due to daddy not being with us, Chelsea couldn’t swing because we would need daddy’s help to push us while I would take Chels out of her wheelchair and hold her in my lap; so without such support, it was not possible. Abby sat refusing to swing with 30 min left before having to leave the park. Her comment, ‘Chels no swing, I no swing.’ I was hit hard and overtaken by emotions that I usually bury so I can do as I need to do for my family, my kids and especially for Chelsea.”
A therapist Veleria was seeing noticed how out of sorts she was, learning of the impact this had made on her as a mother and shared a story she had seen in Good Housekeeping magazine about an award-winning organization, “Shane’s Inspiration,” born in Los Angeles in 1998. “Shane’s Inspiration” is an organization created to help build universally accessible playgrounds and programs to bring able-bodied and those with special needs together to have play dates while parents socialized or simply sat and watched their children play together. There are now over 60 such playgrounds in the United States.
Chelsea and her family visited Griffith Park in Los Angeles where there was a “Shanes Inspiration” playground installation. Abby, at the age of two, was able to push her big sister in a swing which brought them both huge smiles.
Inclusion is imperative, and at times, as it has been in Chelsea’s case, it can be life or death to some with disabilities. Veleria continues her story by telling me of her experience when she and her family moved to Coronado, “…we, unfortunately, were faced with an adversary in a particular school administrator when we moved here in 2012 with the superintendent turning a blind eye to the needs of some with special needs in this community; denying access to a free and appropriate education in Coronado and wanting to bus these children off island. I was told, ‘your daughter has no place in our schools.’ I was shocked and astonished by this comment and the actions taken by this administrator to prevent Chelsea in attending Coronado High.”
Chelsea was deteriorating, she was in the hospital with a poor prognosis. Her younger sister Emma, in second-grade, wanted to take the lead and to go to City Council and make the reality of a universally accessible playground in Coronado. She believed that it would bring life back to Chelsea and help so many others that we had come to know with similar stories of denial and frustration in Coronado. The family wanted, and continues to want, to show a better way to bring everyone together.
At that City Council meeting, the Port Authority heard her plea along with several other children, parents and even grandparents, expressing the benefits it would bring for them to have better access and play value with their young children and grandchildren. This led to the Port creating an additional play area at Tidelands Park, but unfortunately they did not use “Shane’s Inspiration” due to time constraints with their budget. It is a nice playground, but not maintained and missing a lot of elements to truly provide play value to persons of all abilities.
Mayor Bailey has encouraged Veleria to take the proposal for a “Shanes Inspiration” play park structure to the City Council again and so she is. She will be speaking at the April 17, 2018 meeting to explain that Spreckels Park, which is centrally located with better parking possibilities, restrooms, and nearer to schools, is an excellent location for this kind of play park for those with special needs, or anyone for that matter, who wishes to utilize it for play clubs and inclusionary programs. She shares that so much is already limited to those with special needs, such as access to events, even the beach, appropriate interaction and true play value. They face hours in therapies, treatments, pain, discomfort, and isolation so why not offer this amazing opportunity and play structure here in Coronado that will serve and benefit everyone? It may even bring about compassion, acceptance and simply a better understanding that though different, we all enjoy a little play time and FUN; no matter your ability, race, gender or age. One more step toward cultural compassion in Coronado.
Other cities, like Huntington Beach, are providing this kind of play park for their communities. If you wish to show your support for those who need this kind of support, please show up at the City Council meeting and stand behind Veleria’s efforts to make Coronado an even more inclusive community.