Feature Article - February 2015
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Planning for Inclusion

Inclusive Play Needs Community Participation

By Deborah L. Vence

"Find examples of great inclusive play spaces and contact the company that designed it to submit a design for your space. Ask them for examples of inclusive spaces they have designed, ask them to explain why those environments are great, listen to them carefully to gauge their level of skill and understanding. Interview many, select the best two or three, and have them submit a design based on your input," she advised. "Invite the community back to listen to them discuss the reasoning behind the design and ask questions."

And, "Do not simply ask for drawings and let a committee make a choice without allowing the designer and the public to be present," she added. "The designer/representative will be your advocate, your supervisor, and the main contact for this equipment investment. The more you and the community listen to them present, and answer your questions about inclusion, the better your ability to choose the right person for the job."

For example, Crossing Abilities playground in Tannersville, Pa., is the "first all-inclusive playground in the region and features mobility device-friendly ramps, sensory motion play, music and game panels, and a unique kid-powered trolley system that transports children across a 20-foot track to a covered landing station, and unique Braille signage for children with vision-related disabilities," Spencer said.

The playground has four-inch thick, themed rubberized safety surfacing, a sloped outer pathway, and extra-wide boarding areas, which enables children of all ages and abilities to play alongside one another.

"It was the result of a joint initiative with many stakeholders, the public and the county," she said.

Inclusive Developments

In addition to increased community involvement, industry pros also see the use of more natural elements in inclusive playgrounds.

"Educators are requiring outdoor play and learning areas to be more 'natural,' incorporating mounds and land forms, trees for shading, plants and grasses for wind management," Gordon noted.

Designing for the experience, not just the access, a good playground goes beyond "getting there," and addresses what people will do once they are at the playground.

"Great inclusive playground designers are thinking beyond physical access and considering the needs of the whole person, to intentionally provide opportunities across the entire developmental spectrum: physical, cognitive, sensory, social and communicative development," said Spencer.

Some examples might be under-deck and dramatic play elements that encourage creative thinking, and seating areas to provide a place to rest, socialize or observe. Sensory-rich environments encourage discovery and exploration; offer multisensory cues using color, landscaping and textures to organize the play space in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand.

In addition, Spencer said, "musical instruments give children choices on the way they want to participate (play, sing, dance, observe) and also encourage communication among participants. Including play activities that provide auditory, tactile or visual feedback to reinforce and develop the understanding of cause and effect."