Play is a vital part of a child’s development. It is the foundation upon which they learn social skills, creative thinking, problem solving and self-regulation. Going to a playground also promotes physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle. A playground is the “classroom” where kids can benefit from all of the advantages of free play.
Nearly 1 in 5 people in the USA has a disability. That means there are millions of children with a physical or mental disability. Play should not be reserved only for those children with no disabilities. All children should be able to participate. There is a nationwide movement to make public places more inclusive. A movement to make sure that there is kindness in our communities and that everyone is included. This is why creating an accessible playground is so important.
What is “Accessible” and “Inclusive” Play?
Often, the words “accessible” and “inclusive” are used together. They are symbiotic words that work together in a playground setting but actually mean two different things.
When applied to play and playgrounds, “accessible” simply means that anyone can access the equipment. You might be thinking of wheelchair ramps, and while those are useful, let’s think beyond that. Other important factors include the surfacing, the size and space of the area and the equipment itself. Fortunately, playground equipment manufactures are getting more creative every year with design and function.
An “inclusive” playground means that the equipment is designed to be used by people of all abilities, ages and sizes. It means being a part of something. It means fostering an environment where diversity is respected and valued. In order to achieve an inclusive play area, it must first be accessible.
Keys to Accessible and Inclusive Play
In order to be considered accessible and inclusive for everyone, a playground should try to meet as many of the following criteria as possible:
- Equitable Use – each piece of equipment can be used by anyone regardless of disability, size, age
- Flexibility – each piece can be use in multiple ways
- Ease of Use – equipment should be easy to use with little or no direction
- Information – any info or directions that are needed for equipment should be easily displayed or available
- OK to Use Wrong – encourage creativity! The equipment should be ok if used in a different way than intended.
- Low Physical Effort – equipment should be able to use by people of all strength levels
- Size and Space.- there should be enough room for anyone that uses special equipment (wheelchair, walker, etc.). The space should also consider that a caretaker may need to be with the child.
It may not be possible for the entire playground or all of the equipment to meet these standards, but taking steps to make even part of the area accessible and inclusive is a step in the right direction.
Why Should We Make Playgrounds Accessible?
Everyone deserves a chance to join in and play. Playing is when kids learn how to socialize, how to make friends, how to be fair, kind and empathetic.
Accessible and inclusive playgrounds may be designed with the child with the disability in mind, but the benefits overflow to the child with no disabilities. These kids will learn about differences, kindness, empathy and a world with no barriers.
Inclusive playgrounds tend to be more creative and unique. This makes it a destination for the whole community. Even if the playground is private at a school or church, kids will get excited when they know they are headed there.
The physical benefits of play are great for all, especially children with disabilities that may not have as many opportunities for physical activity. Many Americans live a sedentary or inactive life and childhood obesity is prevalent. Getting outside and moving can help!
Long-term studies* show that children that are exposed to play early in life have significantly better life outcomes. Higher career earnings, an increase in the number of high school and college graduates and increased confidence in their social and coping skills.
Let’s not deny ANYONE these opportunities! Provide accessible and inclusive play for all!
For more info on Inclusive Play, why it is important and how it can be achieved, click to read our FREE Inclusive Play Idea Book.
If you would like to learn more about designing and building a playground in your community, school or church, that is accessible and inclusive, visit https://www.midstatesrecreation.com/