Guest Column - January 2011
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Playgrounds

Play for All
Thinking Outside the Ramp

By Mara Kaplan and Ian Proud


Achieving Inclusive Play

While ramps continue to have a place at the playground, it's important not to design the entire playground around them. On inclusive playgrounds, all children can achieve the benefits that play has to offer.

How is inclusive play achieved?

One solution is to provide more ground-level equipment. If more children played on ground-level equipment, there would be more opportunities for swinging, swaying and jumping—all the activities children need to develop their vestibular system, which is the sensory system that contributes to a person's balance and sense of spatial orientation.

This is especially true for children with autism. Ground-level activities allow more opportunities for social play, such as swinging next to a friend, playing together on a seesaw, and running or wheeling around through different challenges laid out with a variety of play equipment. If the majority of children engage in ground-level activities, then a child with even the most profound disability can be included.

Adding creatively designed ground-level equipment to the playground creates a social space where all children and adults can play together and encourage one another. For a parent raising a child with a disability, there is nothing more rewarding than having your child cheered instead of jeered.

Play for All

People of all ages, backgrounds and abilities benefit from play. That's why it's essential to provide opportunities for children of any ability to play alongside one another.

When designing a playground, the goal should be to offer inclusive play, not just access. Consider the playground's purpose and the children who will play on the equipment.

A smart first step is to partner with a like-minded, experienced playground equipment manufacturer that specializes in offering an optimal recreational experience and is deeply committed to the principles of inclusive play. Inclusive play shouldn't be an afterthought, but something the manufacturer contemplates throughout the entire product development process.

In addition to incorporating ground-level activities throughout the play area, other elements to consider include decks that are comfortably roomy. Play equipment should offer a wide range of sensory experiences, with activities that are challenging and feature motion, tactile experiences, quiet places, sounds and music. Ramps should be creatively designed and situated as close to the bottom of any slide as possible.

Creating inclusive play environments that transcend the norm also requires input from the end user. Designers should consult children with disabilities and their families during the planning process, and provide an opportunity for them to engage with existing playgrounds and give critical feedback. Doing so will help us evolve from standard playgrounds that meet basic requirements to truly inclusive and meaningful play spaces everyone can enjoy.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mara Kaplan is the founder of Let Kids Play!, a consulting firm that works with manufacturers, communities, nonprofits, park districts, retail stores and parents on projects and strategies that ensure that all children have the best play opportunities possible.
Ian Proud is the research manager for Playworld Systems Inc., a leader in imaginatively designed and customized commercial recreation and playground equipment for more than 30 years. For more information, visit www.letkidsplay.com and www.playworldsystems.com.