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How and Why to Design Inclusive Playgrounds

Inclusive Play

10 Aug 2022

Designing Inclusive Playgrounds

Australia is home to more than 350,000 children with a disability, according to the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

With this in mind, adventure+ recognises the need to include them in playtime just the same as any able-bodied child. Our team of experts have years of experience in providing tailor-made play units and inclusive playground equipment to enhance the well-being and development of children of all abilities. 

But what exactly goes into designing an inclusive playground and what makes them different?

Accessible vs Inclusive Elements

The difference between accessibility and inclusivity should be understood before designing a playground. We highly recommend you check out this article for a more extensive understanding.

Accessibility is about movement and approach. If a child in a wheelchair can’t enjoy all or some aspects of the playground because all elements are reached via stairs – a playground is inaccessible. This includes the play space surroundings as well as the playground itself.

Contrastingly, inclusivity is about facilitating an engaging play experience for all children once they have accessed the playground. 

To aid in the accessibility of your playground, consider incorporating these design elements:

  • Elevated equipment should incorporate easy access points such as stairs and ramps.
  • Spacing between activities allows for wheelchair access, children with disabilities and prams or carers with their own mobility aids.
  • Transfer decks to assist carers getting onto equipment.

But what do inclusive playgrounds look like, and how does it facilitate an enjoyable playtime for all?

Inclusive Playgrounds2
Minimbah State School

How to Identify an Inclusive Playground

Inclusivity means that everyone can participate together, regardless of age, ability or background. It provides space and play activities for children and carers with or without disabilities to safely play together. Consequently, you cannot segregate accessible areas if you want to have an inclusive space.

A genuinely inclusive playground doesn’t have areas off to the side for children with disabilities or designated spaces for special needs playground equipment. Inclusive means everyone is a part of play with peers of all abilities. Inclusive playgrounds create an atmosphere where everyone can interact with each other, explore, imagine and play together.

More inclusive play spaces allow children to connect with others positively, relieve stress, stimulate creative thinking and exploration, boost confidence and enable children to enjoy the pleasure and benefits of play.

Why Build an Inclusive Playground?

Designing and building an inclusive playground is a vital consideration for children with a disability and even for children who seek to share their playtime with a disabled friend or family member.

Of those 357,000 disabled children in 2018, three quarters needed assistance with at least one activity – with cognitive and mobility issues affecting more than 90 percent of them. An inclusive playground removes barriers between children, despite their differences, and allows them to play and grow together as they should. All children considered, an inclusive playground is paramount to their wellbeing and development. 

There are numerous benefits of an inclusive and accessible playground to consider:

  1. Help children gain understanding. Children who play together better understand the world and learn to appreciate and accept differences and similarities. They learn new perspectives and develop empathy, which they can carry with them through life.
  2. Create a stimulating play environment. An accessible playground offers a wide variety of exciting inclusive play activities all children can enjoy. From exploring a range of sensory-stimulating activities to using equipment that challenges their physical abilities without causing fatigue or stress, children won’t get bored on a correctly designed inclusive playground.
  3. Help children build self-esteem. A positive, enriching playground helps children develop a sense of identity and boosts their confidence and self-esteem as they learn new skills and make friends.
  4. Help families spend time together. Adults with disabilities can spend time with their children or grandchildren in an accessible and inclusive playground.
  5. Build a better future. Inclusive and accessible playgrounds teach children to value equality and fairness, which has long-lasting positive effects on the community and helps create an inclusive society where everyone enjoys equal opportunities.
Inclusive Playgrounds4 - Highbury Park
Highbury Park – Whitehorse City Council

Where to start?

With so much to consider beginning your inclusive playground project can be overwhelming. It can be helpful to narrow down what elements will provide the most significant value to children of all abilities. To this end, multi-sensory elements are a must. As many children today prefer to play indoors on mobile devices, the precious time they spend outdoors should maximise their sensory development.

These multi-sensory elements can improve a child’s abilities in various areas, such as problem-solving, decision making, comprehension, motor skills, self-esteem, and creativity.

  • Audio – Auditory processing relies on how the brain interprets, recognises and differentiates sound stimuli. Related equipment includes our musical instruments and talking tubes.
  • Physical – The physical consists of sensory information caused by contraction and stretching of muscles and by bending, straightening, pulling and compression of the joints between the bones.
  • Tactile – Touch is a perception resulting from the activation of neural receptors in the skin. Related equipment includes our climbing rocks due to their texture, sand play and various play panels.
  • Balance – The vestibular system provides our brain with information about motion, spatial orientation and balance. Examples of our products include spinners, swings and balancing activities.
  • Visual – Visual perception is how the brain processes what the eyes see – recognising, differentiating and interpreting visual stimuli through comparison with experiences made earlier in life. Related equipment includes brightly coloured play panels and contrasting colours.

On the flip side, it’s also essential to include an opportunity for calm in your playground design. Secluded or quiet areas in the playground, which are still within the sightline, are great for when children experience sensory overload and need to retreat to a calm place to recalibrate.

Inclusive Playgrounds3

Taking a holistic approach – more than just the playground

No inclusive playground is complete without consideration for the surrounding facilities. Your efforts to create a space that is accessible can be quickly undone by poor site planning or a lack of purposeful amenities nearby. By considering these factors, playground designers can provide parents and children with a more convenient and stress-free experience. Moreover, knowing that such facilities are available will make your community more likely to visit the playground over other options.

Some of the amenities to consider as part of your holistic, inclusive approach that can be overlooked include:

  • Pathways and easy access
  • Accessible Parking
  • Accessible Restrooms
  • Watering Spots to Accommodate Service Animals and Pets
  • Wayfinding and informative signage
  • Inclusive Seating and Picnic Areas
  • Fencing: Fence off play areas of the park to keep kids safer by preventing them from wandering away from the park areas

Contact an expert in inclusive playground design

adventure+ recognises that all children are created with equal desire and need to experience play. A well-designed inclusive playground welcomes children and adults of all abilities to a play experience where everyone can interact and play together.

If you’re looking to design a playground with inclusivity in mind, contact us to help configure a playground that will keep children from all walks of life happy.

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