Play is essential for all childrens development.
Gone are the days when children skipped off in the morning with their friends to play in the local streets, woods or fields only to return home when they were hungry. Because of this, playgrounds and parks need to work harder at giving our children opportunities and inspiration for imaginative, sensory and dynamic play!
Swinging about, spinning, rocking or hanging upside-down may seem just like kids just having fun and letting off steam, but it’s actually crucial for the vestibular sense (balance & spacial awareness) and proprioceptive sense (awareness of your own body).
Unfortunately play that is accessible to disabled children is a very rare find. Wheelchair users are rarely catered for at all, equipment designed for those with mobility impairments is designed for little toddlers learning to walk and not for taller children, and playgrounds are often crowded into one spot with hard metal finishes and garish colours which can result in for sensory overload when inhabited by lots of children. If we’re lucky there only ever tends to be one piece of dynamic equipment (most often a roundabout) that EJ, a wheelchair user, can access at any playground we visit and then a few token ‘interactive panels’, which don’t hold much interest for her unless they are musical.
I’ve been lucky to be involved in the regeneration of a local playground Shelford Playscape (on site now!) where we have a fabulous team of volunteers with a shared ethos to create as inclusive a space as we can. However it’s not been easy to find truly inclusive pieces of equipment or ideas and inspiration for making bespoke items!
In 2018, I took part this little film for Cambridge Rare Disease Network’s design challenge for schools. Encouraging children to think about how playgrounds a piece of playground equipment could be designed to be fun for both able and disabled children.
I’d love to see playground equipment designers take on this challenge to think more inclusive too!
I’d be delighted to to talk to any company looking to develop their equipment range or update their playground to input what I’ve learned along the way, being a parent visiting playgrounds with an able and a disabled child, and lessons I’ve learned from being involved with Shelford Playscape!