Create an Inclusive Play Space
It is estimated that between 12.1 percent and 18.7 percent of U.S. citizens have a disability. Ensuring that people of all abilities have access to recreation is a crucial mission for parks, schools and other organizations. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes guidelines to ensure access for all, but sometimes it doesn't go far enough. It is possible to do more, going beyond the basic requirements to create an inclusive play experience for children and families, regardless of ability.
Q: We want to bring accessible play to our community. What should we know?
A: While adhering to ADA guidelines is an important goal, time has shown that accessibility is not enough. Building playgrounds that make it possible for children with limited mobility to access the equipment doesn't ensure they gain all the valuable benefits possible from their play experience. In addition, accessibility might not be enough to reach children with sensory deficits and developmental challenges. Playgrounds must go beyond providing access to ensure inclusion.
You can promote inclusive play by addressing not only accessibility, but also age and developmental appropriateness and sensory-stimulating activities. Following principles of universal design ensures playgrounds will suit the needs of your community, providing a place to play for children and families of all abilities.
Q: Why is inclusion so important? Who will benefit from inclusive play?
A: Rather than considering the benefits of outdoor play for children with disabilities, think about all the ways that playing with children of varying abilities and backgrounds can benefit children and their families, whether they have a disability or not. Inclusive play is crucial for people of all ages and abilities.
A survey conducted in May of U.S. parents with children 12 and younger gauged the need for more inclusive play. In this survey, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of parents said they believe it is important or extremely important that their children have opportunities to play with other children, including children with a variety of abilities. Inclusive play benefits all children, whether they have a disability or not.
In addition, remember the vast number of adults and caregivers who also have disabilities and want to play with their children at the playground. Nearly 50,000 servicemen and women were physically injured in recent military conflicts. As these soldiers return to civilian life, inclusive playgrounds will give them—and others including the aging population—the opportunity to play alongside their children.
Q: How can we be sure we're providing a playground that goes beyond the basics to provide a place where all can play together?
A: Talk with people in your community about their expectations and needs. Then, bring these concerns to your playground equipment manufacturer. Ask your playground manufacturer about their approach to inclusive play.
The best design will address the environment, the play experience and variability to meet a wide variety of needs on a single playground. The approach should focus on increasing usability, safety, health and social participation within your play environment.
A well-designed play environment makes the space comfortable and user-friendly for children and families of all ages and abilities, and does not leave anyone feeling excluded. Variability addresses children's curiosity by providing developmentally appropriate challenges, allowing them to use their existing skills to reach further and develop new skills.
Playgrounds should offer a wide variety of opportunities that help children develop physical, cognitive, sensory and social skills. Inclusive playground designs will balance play experiences to help build these skills.
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