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Accessible Playgrounds for All Children
When we think about playgrounds we often think of children running, laughing and exploring with their friends. Or, we may be reminded of our own childhood memories of tall metal slides, swings and merry-go-rounds.
The playgrounds we see children playing in today are much different than those constructed years ago. Large structures with slides and tunnels and bright colors excite children just at the sight of them.
But what goes through our minds when we think about playground accessibility and children with disabilities? Typically, we realize we haven’t even thought about it.
For the eight percent of children with disabilities and their families, it’s something they think of often. And fortunately, thanks to awareness and research, playground manufacturers, educators, government officials, and entire communities are beginning to think of it, too. Because of that, we are learning to create playgrounds that allow all children to play together.
The Americans with Disabilities Act issued the final rule on playground accessibility in the fall of 2000. This rule has become law, setting requirements for approach, entry, and use of playgrounds. While the ADA guidelines have improved matters, they were only created to provide the minimum standard for accessibility.
This was done through the implementation of adding transfer stations and in certain situations where the playground has a large number of play events and ramps as well. While these guidelines have made things better, they still do not meet the needs of most children with disabilities or allow them to be fully included in the natural play activities of their peers.
Less than 10 percent of children with physical disabilities are able to leave their support devices behind and even when they can, they’re often only able to pull themselves along with their arms or crawl through the equipment. Older children with disabilities will often prefer to watch from the sidelines rather than put themselves in that position.
Crawling on an elevated platform when your peers and siblings are running can be degrading. For children with physical disabilities, their ambulatory device is their key to equal mobility and an important part of their self-esteem.
Benefits of Play
Play prepares the brain for cognitive performance in areas such as language, art, math, and science. Emotional stability and interpersonal skills are also considered to be benefits from play opportunities.
Although the research community has been very clear on the benefits of play, for children with disabilities play often is seen as a luxury rather than a benefit for their education. Play should be an important part of their education.
From Today's Playground. See the full article "Outdoor Play for All Children, Children with Disabilities on Playgrounds."
Additionally, the needs of children with visual, sensory, or cognitive disabilities have not been adequately addressed in the new ADA guidelines for playgrounds.
Recent studies show that brain stimulation produced during play significantly contributes to the growth and hardwiring of neural circuitry, and that play deprivation results in biological regression of brain development.
Although the research community has been clear on the benefits of play, for children with disabilities, play often is seen as a luxury, rather than a benefit for their education.
Children with mental retardation and other disabilities continue to be marginalized from playgrounds and opportunities for play when it should be an important part of their education (Today’s Playground, March 2000).
It is through this research and understanding that many communities have joined together to go above and beyond the ADA guidelines and create universally accessible playgrounds where all children can play. These playgrounds have a minimum of 70 percent accessibility and provide activities that enhance the development of every child.
They also include sensory-rich activities such as water, sand, and themed play. Universally accessible playgrounds ensure that the benefits of play are received by every child. The benefits of play include the development of many skills such as:Additional Resources:
What is a Universally
A Universally Accessible Playground is one in which all children can play.
They come in all shapes and sizes, but provide activities that children with disabilities can enjoy and interact with their peers.
They most often will address the need for ramp access, play panels at ground level, and surfacing that walkers and wheelchairs can ride over with ease.
Frequently Asked Questions
Adventure Island Playground
• cognitive development;
• increased imagination;
• increased discovery and reasoning;
• problem solving;
• enhanced manipulative skills; and
• expanded social awareness.
In Idaho, The Adventure Island Playground and Water Splashpad is a proposed universally accessible playground located in Meridian’s new 58-acre Settler’s Park.
Adventure Island is a volunteer effort of JumpStart, a program of Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center with the City of Meridian.
It is modeled after similar playgrounds in California and Maryland. Both of these, Shane’s Inspiration in Los Angeles, CA, and Hadley’s Park in Potomac, MD, exceed ADA guidelines for accessibility and include themed play areas. They each have been highly praised, winning awards for concept and design and helping create grant initiatives in their areas for future projects.
In addition to being universally accessible, a large portion of Adventure Island is community built (see the Getting Started Kit and new Playground Planner kit). This involved several hundred volunteers throughout the region coming together in one fantastic day to physically build the main play structure.
Universally accessible playgrounds often are much more expensive due to custom designed equipment and alternative surfacing options. By assembling volunteers to organize, plan, and build the playground, they not only save money, but allow individuals throughout the area to take part in something that will enhance the community for generations to come. Adventure Island Playground is about bringing the entire community together. Children of all abilities and their families get to know each other by spending time there together.
Our children are being given a head start to the understanding that we are all different and we can celebrate these differences rather than being fearful or giving into the stigmas associated with them. When we join together to create new opportunities for interaction in our communities for people of all abilities, we change the way we view each other.
We know that through their experiences at universally accessible playgrounds, the children of this generation will grow to be adults with a strong sense of community and compassion. Children with and without disabilities will have a greater appreciation of each other. They also will have opportunities to develop self esteem, dignity, respect, and tolerance.
To find out more about this project and others mentioned here, click on the links. You can make a difference in Idaho by helping with the Adventure Island Playground or by volunteering to help with a similar effort in your area.
Shane's Inspiration, Hadley's Park, Camden Accessible Playground — Accessible playgrounds where the standard for "above and beyond the ADA" was created.