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Before You Go - September 2012

Inclusive Play

Design Guide Offers Methods for Outdoor Play Spaces

By Deborah L. Vence

Children should be able to go to the playground and engage in activities no matter their age or ability. With the help of the Inclusive Play Design Guide (IPDG), created by Playworld Systems, an imaginative playground and fitness equipment manufacturer, recreation industry professionals can have some guidance in how to create inclusive outdoor play space. The IPDG was released in October 2011, followed by an expanded version that was issued in July of this year.

"The Inclusive Play Design Guide (IPDG) is a practical tool that outlines specific ways landscape architects, community leaders and committed professionals in the recreation industry can create outdoor play environments that everyone can enjoy," said Ian Proud, research manager for the company. "The IPDG offers inspiration, education and solutions for the journey toward inclusive outdoor play."

A cross-functional committee of experts from child development, therapeutic recreation, physical therapy, inclusive play, parks and recreation, and landscape architecture developed the guide. "The group pledged to move the industry beyond basic compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) by working to achieve more enriching play experiences for all people, regardless of age or ability," he said.

Proud explained that the guide focuses on five areas:

  • Planning and Preparation: How to identify and involve local people with the knowledge, skills, empathies and connections needed to successfully plan and execute an inclusive playground.
  • Layout: Layout is the biggest single factor standing between only typically-developing children playing and everyone playing, since the design of the equipment is irrelevant if it is poorly sited or doesn't create an opportunity for children of different abilities to play alongside one another.
  • Access: The design of the playground and surrounding environment as it relates to the users and caregivers getting into, around and out of the play area.
  • Selecting Equipment: Help with selecting inclusive play equipment.
  • Play Richness: How to select play activities for people of all ages and abilities (e.g., a quiet, cozy place within the playground for autistic children when they feel overwhelmed).

In July, the guide was augmented to include an enhanced glossary and a new section on the pros and cons of different types of surfacing. "The core focus areas have been expanded from four to five. The new section on equipment selection is a result of feedback from the community. Many additional solutions (strategies) were suggested by peer reviewers," Proud said.

Mara Kaplan, who is part of the IPDG work group and founder of Let Kids Play!, an organization that specializes in designing play spaces for children with special needs, highlighted a project that shows the goals of the IPDG. The Zahra Baker All-Children's Playground, located at Kiwanis Park in Hickory, N.C., was built to remember Zahra Clare Baker, a local 10-year-old cancer survivor who was murdered in 2010.

"In honor of Zahra Baker, who wore a prosthetic leg and hearing aids due to disabilities caused by cancer, the playground was designed and built with children with disabilities in mind," she said. "When looking at the overarching considerations in the design on an inclusive playground, this project meets the majority of them."

In addition, Kaplan said:

  • There are physical, sensory and social activities (creating a rich play experience).
  • The equipment offers multiple levels of challenge for all abilities and ages (everyone plays).
  • Some of the pieces are contiguous or co-located (creating the opportunity for children of different abilities to play together).
  • Children can explore the first part of the playground from an orientation path (so children who might become overwhelmed can look into the playground before committing themselves).
  • The playground has unitary surfacing (to allow everyone with a mobility device unrestricted access).

"The strength of this playground lies in the variety of play equipment. The play equipment provides a graduated level of challenge to ensure that all ages and abilities are actively engaged on the playground," she said. "There are inclusive play products and multiple ground-level activities for all children to enjoy. There are wheelchair-accessible ramps and rides, and thrilling motion and spinning activities.

Proud clarified that, by definition, an inclusive playground does not mean a playground created exclusively for use by children with disabilities. "An inclusive playground is a community playground where everyone can play together, be challenged at an appropriate level, and have fun," he said. "The concept of the IPDG is to enable a community to have rich conversations about the ways to best meet the needs of all people for their particular situation."

He added, "The journey to inclusive play is a process of being armed with good information, understanding what success might look like, asking the right questions, and then making decisions appropriate for the local site and community. The Inclusive Play Design Guide was developed to offer an objective, comprehensive resource to make that possible."

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