Encourage Inclusive Play
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were nearly 40 million Americans with a disability as of 2015, representing 12.6 percent of the population. While disability is more prevalent among older adults, 5.4 percent of children between 5 and 17 years old are estimated to have a disability by the Pew Research Center, and the CDC estimated that about one in seven U.S. children has a developmental disability.
While the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes guidelines that aim to ensure access for all, it doesn't always go far enough. To truly encourage inclusive play, it's necessary to go beyond these basic requirements.
Q: We want to encourage inclusive play in our community. What should we know?
A: One recent survey on inclusive play showed that well over half (57 percent) of parents believe playgrounds must be designed to include elements for children with developmental disabilities, as well as physical disabilities. But in fact, the ADA guidelines only require wheelchair access to play elements. While providing more access is laudable, it does not go far enough to ensure that children of all abilities gain all the benefits possible from their play experience.
What's more, 71 percent of parents believe playgrounds should be designed so children of all abilities can play together, and 74 percent believe it is important for their children to get the chance to play with a variety of other kids, including those with disabilities.
You can encourage inclusive play in your community by adding playgrounds that not only meet accessibility requirements, but that also follow universal design principles to provide a place where children and families of all abilities can play together.
Q: What are the benefits of providing inclusive play?
A: While children with both physical and developmental disabilities will reap the benefits of a more inclusive play space, it's important to think about how beneficial these play areas are for children of all abilities and their families. Inclusive play benefits all children, whether they have a disability or not.
It is also important to consider the needs of adults and caregivers who come to the playground with their children. Providing an opportunity for inclusive play not only gets children of all abilities playing together, it also allows parents, grandparents and other caregivers with disabilities or limited mobility to play alongside their children.
Q: What should we do to ensure our playground goes beyond accessibility to provide a truly inclusive environment?
A: First, invite your community to come together to talk about their needs and desires. Then, talk to your play equipment manufacturer about what you're looking for, and ask about their approach to inclusive play.
The ideal playground design addresses the environment, the play experience and variability in order to meet a wide variety of needs and abilities on a single playground. The approach should focus on increasing usability, safety, health and social participation within your play environment.
Playgrounds should offer a wide variety of opportunities that help children develop physical, cognitive, sensory and social skills. Inclusive playground designs will balance play experiences to help build these skills.
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