Designing a Playground for Children Who Are Blind

The Chicago Lighthouse is a world-renowned social service organization that serves the blind, visually impaired, disabled, and veteran communities. The Chicago Lighthouse wanted a safe, resilient, durable surface for their children’s solarium/play area, which was especially designed to accommodate youngsters who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise disabled. They chose our No Fault Safety Tiles that are perfect to use for both indoor and outdoor play areas.

We’ve written before about the importance of accessible and inclusive playground design.  Today we’re going to discuss the importance of including children who are blind or visually impaired in your plans to build a better playground.

Playground planners who want to consider the needs of visually impaired kids don’t often know where to start. They don’t know how to make the play experience open to everyone. All too often, they assume it will require expensive specialized equipment or that accommodations will somehow exclude kids who aren’t vision impaired.

On the other hand, when playground designers adhere too strictly to the minimum requirements put forth by proponents of inclusive play, they may forget to emphasize the things that make great playground experiences to begin with – namely, that they be engaging, stimulating, and fun for all children.

There’s no doubt that you can create challenging and creative playscapes that are accessible to children with disabilities (including the vision-impaired). You’ll also find that doing so isn’t incompatible with goals to create opportunities for play that benefit children of all abilities.

What’s at Stake?

For all children, playtime is crucial for the development of motor, social, and language skills. It’s also an important driver of good fitness habits early in life. Too often, kids who are visually impaired do not experience the same opportunities for recreation enjoyed by their sighted peers.

Here are a few pointers to turn that trend around on your playground.

  1. Make play “hands-on.” Remember, blind and partially sighted kids “see” with their hands. Tactile elements will help the child get a sense of “place.” For example, one mom incorporates braille signs on her sons’ playground equipment. Consider using grooved surfacing to help kids find their way around. Rubber timbers with rounded tops can provide extra safety and path-marking.
  2. Set boundaries. Make sure the perimeters of the playground are easy to find. It’s a good idea to have the entire playground area “fenced in” for safety reasons. However, some blind children like to “trail” along the inside of a fence, too. So here you have an opportunity to “dress up” the inside of the fence with things for them to explore through touch.
  3. Make the ground “speak.” No matter the age or ability of the children at your playground, it’s always smart to have No Fault Safety Surface underfoot to protect kids from falls – especially under areas where there are potential fall hazards. However, delineating certain areas of play with different surface types could also serve to indicate where certain play opportunities (and risks) can be found. For example, the area around a swing set could have a different material in the area where kids need to be careful to avoid a collision. For blind children, that detectable change in ground surfacing material would serve as their “cue” that kids are swinging nearby. This lets them know to be careful and stay “on the lookout!”
  4. Incorporate sound. Remember: Great playground design appeals to all of a child’s senses. Musical instruments and other auditory stimuli are an excellent idea for an accessible playground. These days you can get beeper balls, balls with bells, goal locators with sound, and other adapted play equipment that can make playground time more accessible to children with visual impairments. If that’s beyond your budget, permanently installed, percussive musical instruments can mount onto existing play structures. Not only are they fun to play, but their locations can also create audible landmarks for kids as they familiarize themselves or travel from one play area to the next.
  5. Use visual clues. Don’t forget to accommodate vision-impaired children who have some ability to see. For example, bright yellow tape might clearly mark the edges of steps and anywhere else a child can accidentally step off. You may also consider painting playground equipment in bright colors that make it easier for kids with low vision to identify from a distance.
  6. Buddy up! When it comes to more risky play (such as running), blind kids can partner with a sighted “buddy” to guide them safely on the way. For more independent runs, some schools use a guide wire or rope system (in which a child is tethered to a guiding line). A stationary noise at the “finish line” can help kids orient themselves and give them something to run toward.

The barriers that children with disabilities are confronted with daily should not prevent them from engaging in playground activities. Schools and local communities are responsible for making play areas available to all – doing so may simply require some creativity and community input. No Fault Sport Group can help you create an inclusive play area that emphasizes safety, inclusion and value. Please contact No Fault Sport Group today, and let us know you read our blog!

No Fault Blog: The Importance of Climbing (and Keeping It Safe)

 

No Fault Safety Surface installed for playground at ARISE at the Farm in Chittenango, NY


You might remember what it’s like to be shorter than all the grown-ups around you. When all the conversations were sailing over your head, and all the excitement was UP THERE, out of reach.

It’s no wonder some kids turn into mountain goats as soon as they reach their toddler years. It doesn’t take them long to learn that “all I have to do is scoot that stool over there to be able to reach the table!” or even “all I have to do is pull myself onto the couch, then I can reach something on the bookcase!”

Anyone who’s been around children knows climbing comes so naturally to them.  It literally gives them the power to change their perspective. When they look out and see the world from a new vantage point, they feel accomplished. They feel proud of pulling themselves up to that level where “important” things happen.

You may not be surprised to know that kids learn through movement. Jumping, running – and yes, climbing.  Those are all ways for them to explore the world around them and find their role in it. Obviously, it’s a huge confidence-builder for little minds. It’s also a great way to strengthen kids’ muscles and help them develop critical problem-solving skills and sharpen cognitive skills such as memory, spatial awareness and risk-taking. It gives them a challenge.

It’s not just young kids who are yearning to go up. Rock climbing in public spaces has gotten popular in recent years. These days, many parks and playgrounds feature natural and manufactured boulders.

(In fact, if your park or playground has room to accommodate adventurous older children and give them some instruction, you might consider creating space for rock climbing using a top rope.  It’s arguably safer than cycling or kayaking, and it will certainly encourage healthy habits that can last a lifetime.)

Boundary-pushing and thrill-seeking aside, we have to be mindful that sometimes a child who loves to jump and climb may try to jump or climb on things that are not safe.

With climbing, especially, comes the danger of falling.   In response, playground equipment manufacturers have been “caging in” or enclosing some of the taller climbing structures found on modern playgrounds. This is somewhat controversial, as studies show children misusing this equipment (often by climbing outside the barriers) can get tangled up in the rope netting or otherwise injured by the enclosure.

If you are considering incorporating climbing structures into your playground, be sure to install safety surfacing under and around it. Fortunately, today’s IPEMA surfacing manufacturers (like No Fault Sport Group) offer surfacing that meets the ASTM F1292 Safety Standard for impact attenuation to heights that approach 16 feet. “Impact attenuation” of playground surfacing material is the measure of its shock absorbing properties.

What does that mean? It means a significantly reduced likelihood of severe head injuries (the most serious type of playground injury) and the most frequent cause of death from playground fall-related accidents.

“Critical height” is defined as the “maximum height below which a life-threatening head injury would not be expected to occur.” These properties differ by the playground surface material. For instance, with rubber mulch, if the playground equipment fall height is 8 feet, the mulch must be 6 inches deep. If PIP is used as a protective safety surface, a depth of 3.5 inches is required.

No Fault Safety Surface is made with a combination of EPDM or TPV rubber granules and a cushion layer of rubber that is poured-in-place on-site. It’s “Americans With Disabilities Act” approved for indoor and outdoor applications, low maintenance, and freeze/thaw resistant. The complete No Fault Safety Surface System provides a resilient, porous, and seamless playground safety surface that is known to be the absolute best playground safety surface available for fall protection. To learn more, give us a call today!

No Fault Project Spotlight – Give Kids The World Village, Kissimmee, Florida

No Fault Safety Surface installed at Fairy Tale Lane at Give Kids The World in Kissimmee, Florida

Give Kids The World Village is a HUGE blessing to kids all throughout the world!  Their facility is an 84-acre, nonprofit resort located in Kissimmee, Florida that provides week-long, cost free vacations to children with life threatening illnesses and their families.  Give Kids The World Village contains 168 villa accommodations, as well as magical, whimsical park attractions and entertainment for young children.  They have welcomed more than 154,000 families from all 50 states and 76 counties since 1986!

They contacted No Fault for a “custom design” for the pathway areas to-and-around their playground at Fairy Tale Lane.  They wanted the pathways to look like the game board of the popular children’s game called “Candy Land”.  No Fault installed over 3,000 square feet of No Fault Safety Surface (poured-in-place rubber) for this project, and as you can see, the results are fabulous!

 

Mr. Michael Bausman, Director of Facilities Resources with Give Kids The World, had the following to say about No Fault and our work, “We absolutely love the new surface!  The colors are so bright and vibrant, and are certain to add to the enjoyment of our families for years to come.

No Fault has always been a great partner of Give Kids The World Village, and has helped us keep our families safe for more than 20 years now!  The staff they send out is always top notch and go out of their way to make sure we are happy with the finished product.  We look forward to using their services for many years to come!  Thanks again for all you do to help make a difference and brighten the lives of the special families that visit Give Kids The World!”

  

Our No Fault Safety Surface comes in an array of beautiful colors and can accommodate inlaid designs to create a theme that will delight children of all ages.  Please contact No Fault Sport Group today at 1-800-232-7766 so we can assist you with your next playground project!