Feature Article - February 2015
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Planning for Inclusion

Inclusive Play Needs Community Participation

By Deborah L. Vence

With one in seven children in the United States living with a disability, playground manufacturers have made it their mission in recent years to ensure that all children enjoy their time at the playground—and that means building inclusive play equipment that children of all abilities can benefit from.

"One of the things we've learned over the past few years is that there is an emphasis on providing sensory play experiences and multigenerational opportunities for social interaction. There's also a desire to make sure the playground design offers enough challenge for children who are typically developing as well so that there are opportunities for healthy interaction among children of all abilities," said John McConkey, market insights manager for a Delano, Minn.-based commercial playground manufacturer.

McConkey's company took a close look at public playground requirements for children with disabilities via a survey of nearly 900 parents of children 12 years old and younger.

"More than half (57 percent) of all parents asked about playground requirements for children with disabilities mistakenly believe playgrounds are required to have elements designed for children with Down syndrome, sensory disorders, and visual and hearing impairments," he said.

"That means that people who think they're designing an inclusive playground based upon ADA standards are really only designing to the minimum requirements and could be missing a huge need [for] their community," McConkey said.

"Organizations that have invested in doing their own research or working with experts in inclusive play can truly create something that's going to meet the needs of a broader range of kids and families; and create a much more fully inclusive play environment," he added.

McConkey and other industry experts discussed the latest in inclusive playgrounds as well as the importance of getting communities involved in their creation.

A Community Connection

Nearly 75 percent of parents believe it is important that their children have an opportunity to play with a variety of children, including those with disabilities, according to an inclusive play survey conducted by McConkey's company.

"In order to benefit from this idea, invite local advocacy agencies and parent groups to participate in your project. They can help you determine what playground products might benefit their children," he said.

Some examples of communities that have become involved in establishing inclusive playgrounds include The Miracle League of Jonesboro, Ark., which, in addition to its Miracle League baseball field, constructed a complex complete with a fully inclusive playground.

Another example involves Bremerton Beyond Accessible Playground in Washington that worked for three and a half years to create an inclusive playground. Bremerton Beyond Accessible Play is a community-based group of parents, teachers and individuals who are dedicated to bringing beyond accessible play opportunities to people of all abilities in Bremerton and Kitsap County.

"Parent advocates got together, taught themselves about what inclusive play truly looks like and purposely selected each piece of their playground so that it went beyond accessibility to welcome children and adults of all abilities," McConkey said.

Jean Gordon, AIA, an architect with Moody Nolan, a design firm that offers services in architecture, civil engineering, planning and interior design, added that he sees more requests from parents for food gardens to be included in the outdoor playground areas, which is a good way to engage the parents and the community.

Furthermore, Anne-Marie Spencer, vice president of marketing and communications for a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company that specializes in developing programs, resources and education in children's play, suggested to: "Involve people!" and "Write a press release to announce meeting dates/times for interested parties to come provide input. Share it with the local media to get the most participation/greatest turnout. Be sure to contact schools and centers that specialize in serving children and families with special needs, as they will have a greater understanding of the limitations of current play spaces and be valuable in providing feedback.