In the playground business we hear the words ‘inclusive’ and ‘accessible’ a lot. But, what do they actually mean?
by Jesse Green
We tracked down some experts to find out how inclusive play can allow for interactive, enriching physical and social interaction. Read on for our top five tips for inclusion and accessibility!
1. Design side by side play
So, how does it work for one child who loves the monkey bars and a friend who has walking aids? Or, one child who loves climbing and swinging and another who likes quiet, thoughtful play?
“You think of play designed so that all children can play side by side. If one child can’t participate in a certain thing, then having a modified component beside it will help,” said Ana Maria Faria, Vice President of Easter Seals Canada. Easter Seals provides services to help children and adults with disabilities and/or special needs as well as support to their families. For more than 65 years, Camp Easter has been Saskatchewan’s only fully barrier-free camp.
Aside from including a variety of activity types, using things like accessible swings that are designed for all users will enable all kids to participate. Ramps that connect different deck areas and larger, wheelchair-accessible play pieces like on-ground cars and boats are all great to include.
“Inclusion is simple. It’s making sure all children have an equal opportunity to play. Playing is so important. Equal access to play benefits the community, so it’s important for everyone,” said Faria.
2. What about the caregivers?
When we’re planning play spaces it can be easy to focus only on the littles, but it can be our caregivers who also need accessibility. Adults who use walkers or wheelchairs and caregivers pushing strollers will always appreciate a wider pathway between play pieces. Including accessible walking areas is something that benefits people with autism as well.
“Some people with autism can have delayed gross motor skills, so navigating over some surfaces can be a challenge. The rubberized surfaces can be helpful,” said Becky McLeod, Autism Resource Centre’s Program Coordinator. However, a full rubber area is not a must; McLeod also noted that a combination of sand for sensory play and rubber for easier mobility works really well.
3. Not all differences are visible
Designing a play space with autism in mind means incorporating sensory and tactile play. It means adding some little alcoves in the playground where kids can be tucked away from the activity and shelter from the sun. It can mean adding a neighbouring spray park which offers a whole other world of interaction and sensory play.
“The more invisible disabilities can be overlooked, and autism playground needs might be different than others,” said McLeod. Sensory play is key for autism, and also incorporating some of the other suggestions can go a long way for inclusion and welcoming all in the community. “It shows that you’re accepting and want everyone to be a part of these experiences,” said McLeod.
The Autism Resource Centre is a non-profit organization that aims to meet the evolving needs of young people with autism. It is their goal to help empower those on the autism spectrum so they can realize their potential, achieve independence and fully engage with their communities.
4. Think about the whole park
Meeting accessibility standards is just the beginning of creating a truly inclusive play space.
“We think about things like cultural aspects, seating, handicapped-parking spots and access to the actual park itself. Basically, if you see someone being left out, then there is a failing point,” said Melinda Pearson, Design and Specification Manager at WaterPlay.
WaterPlay Solutions Corp. offers a full suite of play features designed to splash, spray and engage. They also happen to be our Canadian spray park providers and have installations all over the world. They also devote a ton of time and resources to researching and pioneering the best in creative, innovative play opportunities.
While spray parks have the head start of accessible surfacing, there is a lot more to planning for inclusion.
5. Variety, please and thank you
“We think about social, emotional, intellectual, communicative and sensory needs with all of our features,” said Pearson. WaterPlay’s play pieces are categorized by age and then into zones that range from the highly adventurous water cannons to streams and small ground sprays. There should be a good offering of all kinds of play, from the discovery to social and all kinds between.
“We always aim for layouts that have great play value and are inclusive. We want to ensure that whoever wants to play, can play,” said Pearson.