Feature Article - July 2017
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Something for Everyone

Inclusive, Multigenerational Playgrounds Have Broad Reach

By Deborah L. Vence

McConkey said he would group inclusive and multigenerational best practices together, and said,"Regarding the overall environment, that would include characteristics such as universal design features, wide access routes and ramps, unitary surfacing, more than enough shade and comfortable seating and site amenities, concrete pads next to benches allow for a person in a wheelchair to sit alongside their friends and family."

Depending on the overall site, he said a good idea would be to add fencing or landscape features (plantings), too, to prevent a child from running away if they become over stimulated.

"Parents need to feel safe in the space by allowing their children to roam without having to hover over them," he said.

He also said to focus on access (universal design); safety (good sight lines, shade, fencing or containment features, transition areas from the parking area); and comfort (shade, seating with backs and arm rests, water, adequate rest room facilities—with adult changing tables).

For play experiences, McConkey's company focuses on: activities (cognitive, physical, social, sensory, group and solitary); achievement (age and developmentally appropriate, graduated levels of challenge allowing all children to experience success); and choice (variety, options and range of activities; these become empowering so children can make their own choice of what to do.)

Overall community engagement and outreach best practices include activation—promoting, programming and engagement, McConkey noted.

Charles Jackson, a brand manager and certified playground safety inspector who works for a Carrollton, Ga.-based commercial playground equipment manufacturer, noted parallel paths, "ways to transfer sliding events on structures," and "ground-level interactive play and cooperative play," as being some best practices.

Natalie Mackay, executive director of Unlimited Play, a St. Louis, Mo.-based nonprofit organization that helps to plan, design and build fully accessible playgrounds that allow all children, regardless of their abilities, to play together, said inclusive playgrounds feel like the "place where kids can be kids."

"On the playground, it creates this natural environment where kids can learn from each other," said Mackay, whose son, Zachary, has a rare genetic central nervous system disease. "They learn that my son is just like they are, but he uses a wheelchair. For me, it was more than just playing, but education that truly brings the community together," she said, adding that inclusive playgrounds also help parents with disabilities have the opportunity to play with their children.

Mackay, whose organization now partners with a Monett, Mo.-based manufacturer of commercial-grade playground equipment, advised that when creating inclusive playgrounds, everything should be accessible. "Make sure there are accessible pathways," she said.

Another best practice is parallel play. "Make sure you create things for all kids to play [with] together and break down the barriers at the same time," she said, adding that it's also important to include fencing around the playground.

Even more importantly, for playgrounds—particularly those installed in a public space—it's necessary to provide equipment that aligns with AS™ standards for playground equipment.

"All public playgrounds should comply with AS™ standards regarding playground equipment and with the DOJ guidelines regarding accessibility, including routes of access to and throughout the play area, number of elevated and ground-level play activities, accessible safety surfacing, etc.," Callison explained.

McConkey added that all playground designers should follow ADA standards for accessible design as well.

"However," he added, "there are no standards to dictate inclusive design. Inclusive design is based on the intersection of community awareness and understanding of their unique needs and a good designer who can employ evidence-based best practice recommendations to create a play environment that is fun, functional and engaging for all."