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Driving Empathy – Inclusion on the Playground

In my experience, most parents of children with disabilities are fully accepting of their family. They do not want their children to change, but they do yearn for understanding or empathy from other families. The playground can be designed to make that more likely. If we increase contact between typically-developing children and those with disabilities, they are more likely to understand one another.

Six years ago, Playworld assembled a team of experts from a variety of disability-related fields. This group developed a 70-page Inclusive Play Design Guide (IPDG) intended to be the basis of an international standard for inclusion on the playground. The Guide contends that child development should be the standard around which we design playgrounds, not aesthetics or risk reduction.

Play is a vital part of children’s development and a key factor in how they come to understand the world around them. Unfortunately, many children are unable to reap the benefits of play or engage in the activity due to the nature of most parks and playgrounds. This is primarily because people constructing play spaces fail to understand that disability is not restricted to physical disability. It also includes brain development disorders such as autism, disabilities related to aging, accident injuries etc. They also tend to confuse “accessibility” with “inclusion” when in fact, they are two separate things altogether.

To create a successful inclusive playground that creates rich play experiences for children of all abilities. Playworld’s IPDG has 60 different inclusive goals or intents, of which eight are outlined below:

  1. Sensory, Physical & Social
    • Each of these types of play should be incorporated into activities within the playground. Children who have difficulty with sensory input or need help socializing will need this diversity to select what they need
  1. Multiple Challenge Levels
    • By incorporating various levels of challenge, a wider variety of children are welcomed into the play space
  1. Grouping of Activities
    • It is important for activities of different levels to be located near each other, encouraging children to have contact with each other and lessening the appearance of difference
  1. Activities at All Levels
    • Activities for people in chairs should be incorporated at all heights and ground based play must be considered
  1. Pods, Rooms or Zones
    • For larger playgrounds, creating spaces dedicated to certain activities allows children to choose the type of activity they know they can tolerate
  1. The Coolest Thing
    • The main feature of the playground should be something that is usable by everyone
  1. Unitary Surfacing
    • Using unitary surfacing allows for easier accessibility for children with physical disabilities or wheelchairs
  1. Routes and Maneuverability
    • Paths and travels routes through the playground should be wide enough for people and wheelchairs to pass, transfer onto and off equipment, and get close to activities

These are some of the ways children of all abilities can be made to feel welcome on the playground while still providing enough challenge for the typically-developing child. We can build a community with an invitation to everyone to engage with each other and create empathy in the public space.

Why is driving empathy important to you?