Feature Article - November 2010
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Play Date

What's New on the Playground?

By Deborah Vence

Meanwhile, Spencer noted that being mindful of the overall design is the best way to ensure inclusion on the playground.

"Creating special equipment that is set apart for children with special needs is not the best route," Spencer said. "Rather, we should ensure that we design the entire environment, so that all children can play together no matter what their ability."

Her company creates play spaces using seven principles of inclusive design, in order to ensure that a disability isn't singled out.

"[We] include features and components throughout that will celebrate and integrate people of all abilities in the play space. Playgrounds can and should be designed so that all users feel comfortable, on equipment that is designed to accommodate them, rather than requiring the user to adapt in order to accommodate the equipment," Spencer said, adding that some of the play products her company makes incorporate wide ramps, which can accommodate two mobility devices side by side, ensuring that children never have to interrupt their play time to wait for an open path.

Making sure that play spaces are equipped for children with special needs is the mission of Let Kids Play!, an organization founded in 2007 by Mara Kaplan, a nationally recognized expert in play and play spaces and a parent of a child with disabilities. Let Kids Play! is a consulting group that works to ensure that all children have access to play regardless of age or ability. The organization works with playground manufacturers, nonprofit organizations, park districts, local communities and parents to create and design play spaces. The organization also reviews and provides recommendations for high-quality toys that promote inclusive play.

Kaplan said that parents who have children with disabilities have said that they need something more for their child at the playground.

Some have told her, "'We pay our taxes and there isn't anything for our child to do.' We see the park districts in and of themselves serve their full community. It is a huge number of children with autism, and that growing number puts one in every 10 children [with] a disability, other statistics show one in every 20 children. So, do you really want to leave out a tenth of your community?" Kaplan said.

Ian Proud, research director for a Lewisburg, Pa.-based commercial playground manufacturer, said that the partnership between his company and Let Kids Play! was formed to help make sure playgrounds are meeting the requirements of special needs children.

"There's a Play Day [coming up] in Ohio where Mara is going to be the observer of 57 total children, and a good 35 to 40 have disabilities. This playground is a fairly new playground with [our] newest equipment, and we want to see how the kids play on it," Proud said.

Kaplan wants to see what really works and what doesn't work on the playground.

"Should we tweak something? [We're looking at] kids with autism, kids with cerebral palsy using mobility devices, kids who are developmentally delayed. We're looking at disabilities in a global sense," Kaplan said.