Design Splashpads for Inclusive Play
Spraygrounds can provide a multitude of opportunities for the entire community to engage in a bit of fun in the water. When you design with care and attention, eliminating barriers to play, splashpads can also be a positive and inclusive play experience that is inviting to people of all abilities. We talked with Monica Slanik, BSC(OT), a play advocate and consultant on universal design with a background in occupational therapy, about how splashpads can be designed to make inclusive play happen.
Q: How is splash play conducive to inclusiveness?
A: Inclusive play is about two things: equal opportunity for play, which means access to all types of play; and equal quality of play.
Splashpads and their structures follow many universal design principles, and by nature include a lot of inclusive play choices. There is such a range of pieces from the ground level all the way up to high-energy pieces. For example, at the water tables there is so much learning opportunity for younger children, because they provide opportunities for many play and social development stages, including cooperative play, sharing and cognitive milestones. These are appropriate through the stages of young toddler development up through 5 to 7 years of age and beyond!
Some of the high-energy, active pieces, such as those you run through, allow you to change the play by pushing a button and changing the water experience. This provides an experience to learn cause-and-effect, as well as imaginative play.
Another great thing about splashpads is that each piece has a great amount of space around it. So if we're looking at physical disabilities, such as a wheelchair, there is access to each of the pieces. What's more, the travel path has room not just for one wheelchair, but two or three. You can play a game and participate to the full extent that people using their feet are.
There are also height and reach requirements, which are designed according to ADA requirements, and when you combine that with the spacing of the pieces, it's all accessible. That means there is equal opportunity for play and equal play experience in many splashpad structures.
Q: What are some other ways to ensure splash play areas are more inclusive?
A: It's important to remember that disabilities change over time. There are some that you recognize as permanent, but our abilities change throughout our lifetime. So, for example, as a mom, you have a temporary disability getting around if you have a carriage or a few different-aged children that limit your mobility.
To ensure splashpads are always inclusive to all abilities through all ages, you want to provide different types of play opportunities, from high energy to more simple pieces. That means you want to have things like water tables, simple spray pieces, as well as the big pouring buckets and high-energy pieces.
Q: What else should we consider?
A: All of the sensory experiences provided by a splashpad are important for play development, whether for children with physical disabilities, kids with cognitive disabilities or those without disabilities. They all can manipulate the play experience, whether it's alone, or in pairs or in a group.
It's also important to ensure that the entrance to the splashpad is accessible. In addition, make sure to locate the splashpad near parking and other amenities, such as restroom structures and shade areas, and be sure all paths to and from are accessible.
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