The other day it happened; Vanja ran away from school.
Thankfully, she was found short after – she had crossed the building and taken the elevator to another floor. She was never worried herself, but of course the teachers were. As well as me and John when we found out about it.
Already since she was three years old, this has been something I have constantly been worried about; her interest for taking off in all kinds of different settings and surroundings. She clearly wants to explore things and to be more independent than she can handle on her own. Visual or physical boundaries (like in this case three doors, one long corridor and an elevator) won’t stop her.
Before Vanja was born, and before I had met other kids with Down syndrome, I had never given this with runaways a thought. Of course, I know every single parent worries about their 2 or 3-year-old, and that they find it stressful to go with them in a mall or at an amusement park. But in this case it is something totally different. Because our girl, and many other children with Down syndrome in the same age, has an interest for running away or taking off on their own, also way up in age. And this interest, together with the challenges of sometimes understanding the consequences of your own actions, can become quite troublesome.
So for us, as I have written before, a mobile door alarm is one of the most important things that we always carry with us. At home we have a security chain on our door, and we also have bought a gps watch for Vanja, so that we can keep track of her in case she takes off. But since we can’t be around all the time, gps-watches aren’t 100% reliable and we can’t keep her behind locked doors – different types of ”safety tools” are needed in other surroundings too.
I believe that when people hear and think about the word ”accessibility”, they seldom think about a high fence or a door alarm. But for us, that is what true accessibility looks like. If there could be a school in our area with a schoolyard surrounded by a fence, if there were ”closed” playgrounds in the parks of the city centre, places would be a lot more accessible for us.
Just a few weeks ago there was a guy in a Swedish town, a 12-year-old boy born with Down syndrome, who had left his home on his own and didn’t come back. The days that followed the biggest search for a missing person in Sweden ever took place. It was really overwhelming to read about how 3000 persons participated in the search, of course dedicated to find him alive. To receive the tragic news that his life in the end couldn’t be saved, that he had been found drowned in a nearby river, left me totally devastated and in tears.
Every parents’ biggest fear.
And we live so close to it all the time.
Of course, to live life means there are risks. For everyone. But we have a society where we are good at preventing risks. We also have a society striving for increased accessibility. And with this post I just want to give some reflections on that word and what it can mean. Accessibility for sure means building inclusive playgrounds and parking lots and getting rid of thresholds in public spaces. But it should also mean creating ”safe zones” for some chronic, very curious and determined explorers. For their safety first and foremost. And also so that their parents (and teachers) can sit down and take a deep breath, at least for a few seconds, to save up some energy before heading into the next ”unsafe area” (which is pretty much everywhere)…