A Guelph family is planning to file a complaint with the Ontario human rights tribunal against a local indoor playground called Funmazing Playcentre after their 4-year-old daughter Eloise, who has cerebral palsy, was denied access to an indoor jungle gym due to the supportive ankle braces and shoes she wears.
Matthew Dupuis took his daughter to Funmazing Playcentre at 785 Imperial Road North in Guelph on Saturday afternoon, where he said he was told by a woman who said she was the owner that Eloise could not climb on the 3-storey padded vinyl jungle gym with her shoes on. He was told the indoor equipment requires socks only, due to wear and tear that shoes can cause.
Dupuis told the woman that Eloise had previously been allowed to climb the equipment and that it was the main reason they had come. Eloise’s ankle foot orthotics is made specifically for her to aid with tension in her muscles caused by cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects motor function.
Dupuis said he was told that previous instances where Eloise was allowed to keep her shoes on were a "mistake" but that she could still use the rest of the facility.
'I just thought this is outrageous. We've been there several times in the past, why is it different now?' - Tracy Dupuis
"I'm not going to let her run around [the] large area and tell her, you can't do what all the other kids are doing and climb on the structure," said Dupuis.
"I was frustrated. I was somewhat embarrassed that I had to like have this conversation and argue with her about why this was a new rule, or why the rule had changed."
Dupuis left building with his daughter, who asked him why they were leaving. Wanting to protect her feelings, Dupuis told Eloise that it was too busy, which led her to break down in tears. Fighting back tears of his own, Dupuis took Eloise to Bingemans FunworX in Kitchener, where she had access to all equipment.
On the drive to Kitchener, Dupuis called his wife Tracy to tell her what happened. Tracy immediately phoned Funmazing Playcentre to speak with the owner.
"I was furious. I was very very angry. I just thought this is outrageous. We've been there several times in the past, why is it different now?" said Tracy.
"[The owner] said that she was sorry, but unfortunately she can't have that on her play structure."
The Dupuis family believe Eloise was discriminated against due to her disability and plan on filing a complaint with the human rights tribunal.
"[We’re] hoping that they will definitely change their policies and procedures and allow anybody with a disability or any assistive devices on their equipment, it shouldn’t be a question,” said Tracy. “Our daughter and anybody else in that situation should be allowed, just like any other child would be.”
‘Socks-only’ is safety policy, says facility
In a statement sent by email to CBC News, Gio Salgo, owner of Funmazing Playcentre wrote, "Every single indoor playground that we know of requires a 'socks-only' environment, for two reasons. We want to ensure that other children aren't injured by contact. But more importantly, we do that to ensure that a child doesn't get caught and injure themselves sliding around on the equipment."
Salgo said the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in the United Kingdom advocates for a "socks-only" environment, which Salgo says is the standard across the industry.
Salgo added that she empathizes with the Dupuis family, and has reached out to KidsAbility, an organization that provides rehabilitation and accessibility services, as well as the playground manufacturer to "find a solution."
"If there’s a solution that can be developed, we hope to be able to present it to everyone in the indoor play-structure community," said Salgo.
After reading the statement the Dupuis family said the response "reads like more excuses."
"Funmazing is still not accepting any responsibility to be accessible and we feel they are now making this an issue regarding concern for other patrons safety, when initially the owner was concerned over the wear and tear of the play structure," wrote the Dupuis family in an email to CBC News.
"We will leave it to the Human Rights Commission to investigate if they are compliant with the accessibility laws of Ontario."
Social media backlash
Dupuis wrote about his experience on his Facebook page, which was quickly shared by thousands of people and spread to Twitter.
An unofficial Funmazing Playcentre Facebook page has more than 400 1-star reviews, the lowest rating allowed. Only the most recent 182 are currently visible and all have been posted over the last day. Most reviews were accompanied by comments shaming the company for what happened.
As of Sunday evening, the Funmazing Playcentre’s official Facebook page had been taken down.