Parks in the U.S. are typically non-inclusive, meaning children with disabilities don’t have all of the special accommodations needed in order to be as safe as possible. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made play areas and parks accessible to all children, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re built so that kids with different types of disabilities can play equally.
The Importance of Play
Children playing may seem like fun and games, but it’s an important part of growing up that helps develop intellectual, emotional, sensory, social and physical skills. Children need a safe play to nurture these areas of growth, and playgrounds should certainly be the one place they can go since it affords kids open air, space, and play equipment.
What about children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, which hampers physical ability? How many swings are made to accommodate children in wheelchairs? Some may argue that it’s simply too expensive to create areas within playgrounds for every type of disability, but others argue there’s no cost to protecting the development of our future generation of kids.
Universally-designed playgrounds seem to be the answer to the issue, which creates a small world for children to simply play in without anyone, regardless of disability, being forced to sit on the side while other kids get to play freely.
About Universally-Designed Playgrounds
Universally-designed playgrounds, also called inclusive playgrounds or universally accessible play environments, are created so that every child has a way to challenge all five areas of developmental skills during play. Kids with cerebral palsy and other disabilities often need to break up developing their skills in different ways. For instance, some children do better with less sensory stimulation, while others need a lot more. Inclusive playgrounds allow several different options for children to choose from, typically divided into several different areas within the play area.
Inclusive playgrounds not only meet the current ADA standards, but they go above and beyond the requirements by:
- Creating play environments that help children of all abilities develop their cognitive, emotional, physical, sensory and social needs
- Meeting the needs of the wide ranges of disabilities that children with disorders experience
- Developing a design appropriate for different ages and level of fitness
- Building a common ground between all children, regardless of disabilities
- Providing ground surfaces and wide ramps for children that use mobility aids, such as wheelchairs
Common play areas that you tend to see in the majority of parks get a makeover of sorts when they become inclusive. For example, slide stairs are changed to supports and transfer steps, spacious walker and wheelchair access are added to play bridges, swings have seat belts and safer seats, steps are replaced with ramps and more. Inclusive play areas also have a rich selection of sensory tools, such as sand, child-friendly water sprinklers/fountains, tactile objects, noisemakers, bright-colored themes, and more.
Getting an Inclusive Playground Close to Home
If you don’t have a universally-designed playground in your community, there are a number of steps you can take to get the plan in action.
- Speak with local chapters of disability organizations about sponsorship and funding, such as the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), Easter Seals, and United Way.
- Reach out to the parks and recreation department in your area and inquire if there’s a way for citizens to help raise funds for an inclusive playground.
- Get the local media interested, which can help spread awareness
- Talk to officials at your city’s town hall (be sure to be prepared to educate them as much as possible about the benefits of an inclusive playground).
- Speak with school officials, particularly if there are large numbers of children with special needs.
- Start a fundraiser (Note: Having funds will help you in your missions, but it often takes a lot of time and can be taxing. Getting non-profit support will make things a bit easier).