Children of all abilities can learn and grow from playing outside, even those with mobility problems, blindness, deafness and other challenges. Play makes children more focused in the classroom, teaches them essential social skills, gives them better self-esteem, and in general, results in healthier, happier children.
For children with disabilities, play is even more crucial since they already tend to be excluded from play much more often, presented with less diverse activities, and experience fewer social engagements than children without disabilities.
One playground planning factor that is beginning to gain momentum is accessibility. In Australia, it is said that up to one in five students in government schools has a disability. This means that existing and future playgrounds for which accessibility was not incorporated in key planning stages already alienate roughly 20 percent of the children for whom they were built.
Meanwhile, studies have demonstrated that when given the opportunity and the same play environment, children without disabilities will interact with and play with children with disabilities. If you'd like to know more, here are some ways to make playgrounds accessible.
Proper playground design should address how people will get to the playground from the parking lot or other points of entry. Make sure pathways are wide enough for wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
It is hard to push a wheelchair on loose fill like sand, wood fibre or gravel. Children with autism or developmental delays may try to eat the loose fill, or put it into their eyes or noses. Rubber tiles, "pour-in-place" synthetic surfacing, and certain types of turf that are designed for playgrounds are excellent alternatives. They may be more expensive upfront, but you will save on maintenance costs, since you would have to budget for the regular purchase of additional loose fill to keep the playground fill at the required depth.
Making a playground accessible is not just building more ramps for children in wheelchairs. Disabilities are diverse and of course, not always physical-sensory disabilities, learning disabilities or other types of challenges. Sensory play is especially important for children with disabilities, and not just brightly coloured things, but items with different textures to touch and that make different sounds.
Landscaping can greatly enhance the playground experience for children with disabilities. You can carve out quieter areas where children can move to if they need a calmer atmosphere. Shade is also important. Some playgrounds incorporate plants with nice smells to enjoy, but make sure these smells are not overwhelming. You will benefit from the expertise of professional landscaping services to implement these ideas.
Having a ramp with nothing interesting to do at the top is counterproductive. Make sure that if you have many ramps, at least some of them should have some fun activity to do at the top.
Your playground could include areas with different levels of challenges to accommodate varying stages of development. The danger of having a playground that is too easy to navigate or boring to the eyes is that some children may go elsewhere, which brings you back to the problem of lack of inclusiveness.
Swings are extremely popular; however, be sure to find a playground manufacturer that can make bucket swings with seat belts. Thankfully, more playground manufacturers are starting to offer accessible playground components.
It is impossible to build a play area in which every single component can be accessed by everyone, disability or not. Designing your playground so that children with disabilities can enjoy some of the same activities as their classmates without disabilities is paramount. Your job is to create the opportunities and the children will take care of the rest.