Feature Article - February 2015
Find a printable version here

Planning for Inclusion

Inclusive Play Needs Community Participation

By Deborah L. Vence

The Do's and Don'ts

Playground design experts also suggested keeping in mind a few do's and don'ts when planning for an inclusive playground.

As for the do's, McConkey said:

  • Do consider programming from organizations like Shane's Inspiration to make your project socially sustainable.
  • Do promote the project throughout the planning process and grand opening to gain community support.
  • Do visit inclusive playground reference sites to understand the differences between equipment, how individuals interact with specific components, and to determine what you do and don't like about particular designs.
  • Do consider the entire environment and amenities around it including fencing, pathways, shade, adequate seating and accessible bathrooms.

But, Don't:

  • Design a "special needs" playground; create a playground that welcomes children and families of all abilities, but one that also gives thoughtful benefit to children with special needs.
  • Limit your project goals because of funding concerns; there are funding opportunities available through foundations, in-kind support, partnerships with service organizations and more.

Spencer suggested that when planning for inclusion, some do's include:

  • Involve the community in the planning, and be sure to include people with disabilities, who will have tremendous input.
  • Think of the design as an electrical conduit; all parts have to be effective for the whole to be effective.
  • Think beyond the mobility device. There are a variety of disabilities; are you truly serving all people?
  • Talk to several playground designers, view their portfolio of inclusive designs, ask them to describe why they are effective, and let them present to your stakeholders to invite meaningful discussions.
  • Choose your design, then raise funds to meet the vision.
  • Celebrate your project, once completed with a huge PR campaign and grand opening. Your play space will be a destination, as people will come from great distances to experience equitable play.

But, Don't:

  • Make decisions without any public input. It may need to fall to a smaller group for the final choice, but involving a great number of people to contribute will help ensure you're considering all viewpoints.
  • Forget the importance of parking, surfacing and pathways. They all are part of what makes the experience fun and accessible.
  • Design for wheelchair access only. Consider the spectrum of disability types to ensure your space is usable by the most number of people to the greatest extent possible.

More Still Needs To Be Done

Though much progress has been made in inclusive play, more needs to be done.

"Surfacing is a hot topic among consumers," McConkey said. "While there are many options for playground safety surfaces, some of those are more inclusive than others. And oftentimes, the more inclusive surfacing options come with additional costs.

"However," he said, "another piece that's important to address is that many communities planning an inclusive playground are only thinking about its accessibility. While it's important to provide access to the playground, it's also important to think about a variety of special needs like children with Down syndrome, autism or sensory disorders. Inclusion goes beyond access."

Gordon said inclusive play designs should see "The creative use of appropriate equipment in a manner that emphasizes natural environments for play."

And while new and interesting products are great, the most critical factor, Spencer said, is "ensuring that people who design playgrounds understand how to design a play space to accommodate everyone.

"There's a great quote in the 'Me2: 7 Principles of Inclusive Playground Design' guide that states: 'There is growing awareness that activity disparities among children are not a direct result of their disabilities, but rather as a result of the challenges that individuals with disabilities face accessing the environment.'

"In other words," she added, "it's not the disability, it's the failure of the environment to accommodate that is the greatest challenge.

"If we can help people understand how to create inviting and inclusive environments that consider the needs of the whole person across all developmental domains," she said, "we've taken a huge step in correcting the activity disparity experienced by so many people with disabilities."