What Is an Inclusive Playground?
An inclusive playground is one that supports all groups of people within a community, recognizes their value and helps them achieve their full potential through play.
Through improper surfacing or non-ADA compliant structures, playgrounds that do not offer access or do not offer activities may be considered exclusionary. Not only can these play spaces be a detriment to a differently abled child, but they can also be a liability and lawsuit risk to the organization responsible for them.
Outdoor areas that offer ADA accessible features within a different area of the park, or equipment that is only designated for ability challenged children may be considered segregated. Often the playground design sought to create a space that was specifically designed for wheelchair use and mobility challenged kids, but the design was separated for safety or logistical concerns. Unfortunately, this type of design limits interaction and therefore socialization opportunities. Often segregated play spaces don’t recognize the needs of other disabilities as well, such as cognitive delays, Sensory Processing disorders, or Autism.
Integrated play spaces are by far the vast majority of playgrounds open today. They are ADA compliant with acceptable safety surfacing, a correct ratio of play events / types and offer a transfer station which allows easy access to play structures for mobility challenged children. These playgrounds have done what is required (by law) but have not gone out of their way to offer truly a immersive experience.
An Inclusive Playground is one that not only permits children with different abilities to use it, but also encourages them and able children to play together throughout the entire site. Guralnick’s study established in 1986 established that often children with disabilities have deficiencies in social development. Bordin’s research in 2005 agreed children with disabilities have a limited repertoire of peer-related social skills. Creating play spaces that focus on eliminating obstacles and inviting interaction between children is crucial to social development. Inclusive playgrounds also offer safe sensory rich opportunities for self-determination which create a resilience to stress, increases self-esteem and emotional well being.