Feature Article - January 2008
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The Play's the Thing

Innovation and Safety Meet on the Playground

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Taking Access to the Next Level

When it comes to making your playground "accessible," Teresa Hendy, International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) Voice of Play advisory board member and universal access expert, suggests that you think beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act's minimum requirements:

"Manufacturers are very quick to provide ramps and accessible platforms, but they have been slower to actually be concerned about whether a child can use something when they get there," she said.

The ADA paved the way for those with disabilities to have equal access to facilities, buildings and even play equipment. "[The ADA is] all about getting there and being part of the mix, which is very important," Hendy said. "You don't want segregation."

However, getting there is not really enough if the equipment is not designed so a child with a disability can actually use it. "How much energy does it take to turn or manipulate a knob on a play panel?" Hendy suggested asking. If your park offers steering wheels or knobs to pull or handles to twist at ground level, that's great. But are they arranged in such a way that a child using a mobility device (like a walker or wheelchair) can get in position to use them?

Hendy is encouraged by the latest equipment options she's seeing, which include "a lot of climbing structures that are accessible at ground level," she said. "The beauty is that a child in a wheelchair is right there in the middle of the mix. If they can hold on and pull up out of their chair, they can do that, or otherwise they can hang onto the cable another kid is trying to climb. That's an important part of social learning, and when you talk to children with special needs, that's really their emphasis. They don't want to be left out or on the sidelines. Even if physically they can't do everything, it's important to be there interacting. So the closer we can get them to the play the better."