Supplement Feature - October 2019
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A Splashing Good Time

Inclusive & Multigenerational Splash Play

By Joseph Bush


Thomas said space limitations can force a design with a lot of features combined in close proximity—buckets and water guns and ground sprays and intermediate sprays and slides. In these cases, with less flexibility for zones, details matter more, he said. Buckets have to be different sizes, for those who want less or more volume dumped on them, and slides have their own considerations.

"If you have a water play structure, make sure there's lots of activities or spray effects coming off the structure in case someone in a mobility device can't get on the slide," Thomas said. "Then you're talking about surfacing. A lot of these structures are not designed for someone in a wheelchair to get up into and then slide down, so we try to provide lots of play events around the structure so that no matter who you are, you're feeling the effects, whether you're being sprayed on or dumped on without ever having to get onto a slide."

More basics for a splash pad to be as inclusive as possible, according to Thomas: have spray activators that can be rolled over; plenty of shade for caregivers; and of course, ease of passage from the parking areas. Access to splash pads is usually the responsibility of the municipality, operator or contractor, Thomas said.

"As a manufacturer we can say, 'We can put that into our design. Where is your parking lot going to be? Are you accommodating for getting to the pad? How far is it going to be from facilities?'" he said. "We can draw that into our plan set but we have to know that in advance. We certainly make all those recommendations through the design process because they may not be thinking about it, and if they're not and you don't show them what it looks like, then they may forget."

Inclusion Means Playing Together

Steve King, founder of a Delano, Minn.-based manufacturer of playground, splash play and other park products, was part of the development team for the ADA guidelines for playgrounds. His company formed an inclusive play advisory board comprised of therapeutic professionals, parents of children with disabilities, individuals with disabilities and designers who are dedicated to inclusive design solutions.

According to Ingrid Kanics, a member of that advisory board, with the addition of splash play products to the company in 2015, the board began to work to design spray pads and splash play equipment to benefit children and families of all abilities.

"We believe that every person has the drive to play regardless of their ability," Kanics said. "By intentionally designing splash play environments, we help welcome individuals of all abilities and encourage social engagement during play."

Elements that encourage cooperation and social play are important within the design of splash pads, she said. Families who have a child with a disability say their top priority is to have their child play with others and develop friendships. "That can only happen if there are group play opportunities designed into the environment," said Kanics.

Kanics said the advisory board believes in a few basics to achieve this group play environment:

>> Seamless transitions from surface to surface ensure that everyone can move through the splash pad freely, whether they use a wheelchair, walker or stroller, or are a toddler just learning to walk.

>> Considerations are made for how children play at different ages. This means understanding childhood development and what features best support the play skills being developed at each age.

>> Understanding how a given medical condition might define the play skill level of a child or the type of play they might be drawn to.

"Children with disabilities may lag behind their peers in their skill development, so the design of the splash pad has to support the developmental range of all children who will engage in that play area," she said.

Kanics stressed that inclusive play goes well beyond ADA compliance. The ADA is a minimum starting point for design, she said, but design has evolved beyond those requirements to embrace the needs of the community.

"Inclusion is about bringing together children with typical development as well as those with an assortment of disabilities so that they can learn and play in the same space," said Kanics.

ADA primarily focuses on physical access and supports for those with auditory and visual impairments, she said, while inclusive design strives to support visitors of all ages with a wide variety of medical conditions—children with Down Syndrome, autism, sensory processing disorders, etc.

"Once we understand how these children interact with the splash play products, we can design an environment that provides everyone with a quality play experience," Kanics said.

Inclusion should also take into account aging caregivers or wounded warriors who may bring children to the splash pad, said Kanics; supportive seating close by is crucial so that these individuals feel that they can provide adequate supervision while having their needs accommodated.