Supplement Feature - October 2019
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A Splashing Good Time

Inclusive & Multigenerational Splash Play

By Joseph Bush


In an article titled "Making a Splash: Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Aquatic Venues," posted on the website of the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), Bill Ramos, faculty lecturer in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at Indiana University, identified construction trends in aquatic facilities as indicative of the popularity of swimming as a recreational activity.

"Recently, the construction of traditional competitive environments is down while community waterparks and aquatic centers are up," Ramos said. "Increasingly common in these community aquatic facilities are splash parks. Splash parks are less expensive to build and operate than traditional pools, and bright colors and themes make the splash park fun and enticing. Many splash parks are designed with a zero-depth entry, enabling people with mobility impairments to use the same entrance as other visitors. The lack of pooling water also encourages people of all ages and abilities to experience the fun."

Ramos said with the increase of newly constructed community aquatic centers, it is crucial for facility staff to understand the needs and expectations of their guests with disabilities. People with disabilities have very specific expectations for their visit including:

>> Accessibility from the parking area and main entry to the reception desk, locker rooms, pools and concessions.

>> Customer service from aquatic facility staff who are sensitive and knowledgeable about the needs of people with disabilities.

>> Areas and features for physical activity and exercise promoting wellness and improved fitness.

>> Change in facility policies to allow for disability-related needs such as adapted equipment and assistive devices.

An article at LDOnline.org titled "Developing Recreational Skills in Persons with Learning Disabilities" said, "the chance to learn from and to socialize with non-disabled peers has been cited as one benefit for individuals with disabilities participating in integrated and fully inclusive programs. Research in the 1980s determined that positive attitudes of children not having disabilities toward peers having disabilities were cultivated or increased when involved with an integrated recreation activity."

Inclusivity for those with special needs is more than simply allowing them to participate in life as fully as those without special needs; according to a 2016 master's thesis by Summer Esseff of California State University-Monterey Bay, there are many benefits of therapeutic recreation for people of all abilities, physically and intellectually.

"However, it has special benefits for people who have special needs," she writes. "Some of their benefits include: perceived sense of freedom, independence and autonomy; enhanced self-competence through self-worth, self-reliance and self-confidence; better ability to socialize with others, including greater tolerance and understanding; enriched capabilities for team membership; enhanced creative ability; enhanced ability to read others' expressions and feelings; enhanced perceived quality of life. Physical benefits also include: increased lung capacity, reduced resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, decreased body fat, increased lean body mass, increased muscle strength, and improved structure and function of connective tissue such as ligaments, tendons, cartilage and joints."

Making Splash Play More Inclusive

Chris Thomas, marketing director for a San Marcos, Texas-based manufacturer of splash play and other aquatic play products, said making splash pads as inclusive as possible—going beyond minimum ADA requirements—is about zones, the feel of the water and the ability for all users to control the water.

Thomas said much of what his company has learned about special-needs-friendly splashpads comes from its study of the needs of smaller children. Adjustments have to be made to water volume in dump buckets and spray speed and temperature, and there has to be a separation from larger kids. These factors have to also be considered for people for whom a noisy, active environment can be traumatic.

The basics are important, Thomas said, and the most basic features for splash pads are the sprays. He said ground sprays are the least intimidating because they don't direct water from above onto users' heads.

"If it's a child with autism who has a hard time being around people, then part of that dedicated zone has ground effects that are softer, lower, less intimidating and more soothing," Thomas said. "That's why we break up the pad into zones.

"With ground sprays, that's going to appeal to a very wide range of people, just like interactive fountains do. When you start getting into the taller features and more interactive stuff, you have to make sure that the handles are at the right height and accessible no matter your ability. We take all that into consideration and design accordingly."