Inclusive Play Community Series: Socially Inclusive Playgrounds
"Beyond disability, there are abilities; beyond accessibility there is inclusion", Keith Christensen
Across the country, hundreds of inclusive playgrounds are being built and many children are enjoying them. Somewhere during the design process however, the very purpose for creating these play spaces (children's play) often gets lost in the details of Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, ASTM safety standards, equipment selections and budget restrictions. These issues are important but they are peripheral to the design process and should not be the focus! Far too often, attempts to plan for children with mobility impairments overshadow the necessity of a comprehensive approach that includes social and emotional inclusion, sensory integration, graduating levels of physical and mental challenges, cognitive simplicity and opportunities for discovery and exploration. Comprehensive inclusive play spaces are effective when approached with an activity based approach founded on evidence based research and design.
Social Inclusion: Inclusive play environments follow seven principles of design to remove the physical and social barriers to all children fully participating in play. Inclusive play environments and equipment are designed for equitable use to (1) Be Fair for all kids; designed for flexibility in use so all kids can (2) Be Included; designed to be simple and intuitive so all kids can (3) Be Smart; designed with perceptible information where all kids can be (4) Be Independent; designed to be tolerant of error to (5) Be Safe for all kids; designed to require low sustained physical effort so all kids can (6) Be Active; and designed with the appropriate size and space for approach and use so all kids can (7) Be Comfortable.1
Comprehensive inclusive play environments are created by following these principles and thoughtfully considering the child and their strengths and ability to participate in play independently and equally with their friends, siblings, and neighbors. The emphasis is not on helping the child with a disability to adjust to and accept the play environment, but rather designing the play environment to accommodate the needs and abilities of the child. Inclusive play environments are a fundamental statement about social values and a child's right to play. These play environments encourage equality of play opportunity, full participation in play, and the independence of the child.1
Sensory Integration: Play spaces, when properly planned and designed, can be a rich source for playful sensory experiences where children personally experience and explore their many senses. Design of play spaces should not stop at the traditional senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell, because comprehensive inclusive play spaces support children's less well known proprioceptive and vestibular senses. The vestibular system contributes to balance and sense of spatial orientation, which supports movement.
The proprioceptive sense is a child's sense of body positioning which supports motor planning.
A comprehensive inclusive play space supports the integration of all of a child's senses that are ultimately necessary to support the developmental needs of the child, including social, cognitive, and sensorimotor development. Play spaces which are universally designed to support a diversity of sensory stimuli, allow children to use their abilities to seek their needed stimuli for developmental growth.
If you are interested in learning more about socially inclusive playgrounds, please contact us at 209-571-1765 or e-mail us at [email protected]