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Inclusive Play Boys Playing at the Park

Playgrounds: Inclusive Play is About More Than Accessibility

Posted by Churchich Content Team Content on March 18, 2021

While it is certainly important for a playground to be designed with mobility impairments in mind, inclusive play is about more than accessibility.

Perhaps it is best to start with a definition of inclusion which we can loosely define as the act of empowering and supporting all groups of people in the community, regardless of their age, ability, or stage of development, and recognizing their worth and importance, and encouraging them to achieve their full potential.

Inclusive play will offer play opportunities to children (and adults) of all abilities. More than accessibility, inclusive play brings able-bodied children, children with physical conditions and different sensory conditions together and allows them to engage with each other and the playground equipment in their own unique way.

“Play is very much a social process and the opportunity to be included should be available to every child,” wrote Keith Christensen, Ph.D, and Chad Kennedy, ASLA, in the article “Comprehensive Inclusive Play Spaces!” in the California Parks & Recreation magazine.

The authors continued: “Often, planning efforts related to mobility impairments overshadow the necessity for a more comprehensive approach focused on understanding children with disabilities, understanding developmentally appropriate levels of risk, and using the principles of universal design to provide social and emotional inclusion, sensory integration, graduating levels of physical and mental challenges, cognitive engagement and opportunities for discovery and exploration.”

Principles of Inclusive Play to Consider

That authors of the “Comprehensive Inclusive Play Spaces!” article highlighted the following principles in play environments to encourage inclusive play:

  • Designed to be fair to everyone.
  • Flexibility in design so everyone is included.
  • Intuitive so everyone can be smart.
  • Perceptible information so everyone can be independent.
  • Tolerant of error so everyone can be safe.
  • Low-sustained physical effort so everyone can be active.
  • Appropriate size and space for approach so everyone can be comfortable.

“Following these principles supports thoughtfully considering the child and their strengths and ability to participate in play independently and equally alongside their friends, siblings, and neighbors,” Christensen and Kennedy concluded.

10 Evidence-Based Practices of Inclusive Playground Design

So how can playground designers put inclusive play principles into action when designing their environments?

In 2017 Utah State University graduate student Courtney L. Fernelius developed “10 Evidence-Based Practices of Inclusive Playground Design” after researching 22 studies.

Fernelius in the publication “Evidence-Based Practices for the Design of Inclusive Playgrounds that Support Peer Interactions Among Children with All Abilities” found that inclusive play could be accomplished by the following design ideas:

  1. Circular playground design that links activities to complementary activities.
  2. Playground equipment designed as common and recognizable objects.
  3. Loose parts on the playground such as various props for imaginative play, playhouses and tables, sporting equipment, sand toys, musical instruments, and water play opportunities.
  4. Accessible surfacing and sufficient space for maneuvering between and on pieces of equipment.
  5. Equal amounts of elevated and ground level components for gathering in groups, and more ramps or transfer systems to access elevated components.
  6. Multi-niche settings (equipment/activities that require more than one child to operate or play).
  7. Equipment that provides appropriate levels of challenge and risk for children of all abilities.
  8. Observation points or “jump in points.”
  9. Comfortable or “cozy” places, often created by enclosed areas or pieces of equipment.
  10. Sensory stimulus activities and visual or tactile cues throughout the playground. 

Examples of Inclusive Play in Action

At Churchich we incorporate new playground design trends into our work to make sure inclusive play is put into action.

Trends to look for:

  • New playground technology such as beacons, geofences and drones.
  • Musical features for playgrounds which can help stimulate tactile, visual, and auditory systems in children and adults.
  • Interactive theme parks such as Morgan’s Wonderland Inspiration Island Splash Park in San Antonio, Texas

Churchich Recreation and Design is also able to offer Miracle Recreation playground products that incorporate inclusive play such as:

  • Sensory Maze: Children and adults – including those with sensory disabilities – can explore the different textures, shapes, and translucent colors of the maze’s reconfigurable panels.
  • GlideAlong: This part swing, part track ride gives children the chance to experience a new and improved swing.
  • Inclusive Swirl: Children of all abilities can enjoy the great adventure of spinning together with Inclusive Whirl is built level to the ground, which makes it wheelchair accessible.

Contact Churchich Recreation and Design today to find out how we can enrich your community with memorable, one-of-a-kind experiences for inclusive play, comfort, and connection.