Engaging Children with Disabilities Using Inclusive Playground Activities

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Young children with disabilities have the right to participate in extracurricular activities on the playground. When they can’t participate, they miss out on important health and social benefits.

Including children of all abilities means creating an environment where they have equal access. That is why schools often use an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a written plan detailing how a child’s needs will be met in the classroom and on the playground. Developed by school staff and parents, the plan helps educators, administrators, and families set learning goals for a child and designate the services that the school district will provide.

When planning a playground, designers should consider various types of disabilities such as medical, sensory, cognitive, social, and mobility related disabilities. These considerations should play into all decisions related to the playground’s design so that it can be an inclusive play area for children of all ages and abilities. The play equipment, the placement of equipment, and the surfacing are just a few design features that can make a playground more inclusive.

View Playground Surfacing

Familiar and inviting environments can encourage social play among children of all abilities. Accessibility and safety should be the top priorities. According to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas (2000), “Designers should consider the optimal layout of ground-level play components to foster interaction and socialization among all children.”

A playground’s design can encourage (or hinder) socialization. Children with autism spectrum disorders, for example, rarely interact with other children in “free play” situations, and they typically have difficulty with imaginative play. A “circuit-style” layout (where playground equipment is arranged in a circle with a central open area) encourages them to navigate the playground and stay active. This encourages more imaginative play and physical challenge by creating a structural boundary surrounded by an open area for free play.

A 2013 report called A Systematic Review of the Best Practices for Playground Inclusion (Mejeur, Megan; Schmitt, Graceann; and Wolcott, Hannah) describes the physical and social barriers children with disabilities face on the playground. Physical barriers might include uneven surfaces, narrow entryways, and equipment that can’t be used without help from an adult. These physical barriers make social engagement between children with disabilities and those without rather difficult (hence the social barriers). Children with disabilities might have different scheduled play times, which further isolates them and excludes them from social play with the rest of the children.

All of these barriers—both social and physical—should be eliminated for play to be truly inclusive.

Playground Activities for Children with Disabilities

From modified equipment to inclusive activities, your playground can also incorporate games and play structures that make inclusive play easier. These might include: 

  • Modified swings: Several companies create adaptive swings for children with special needs. Swinging helps the brain make sense of speed and direction, which is beneficial for kids with visual perception issues. 
  • Bright colors: To help kids with impaired vision, bright colors can help identify equipment from a distance. Bright-colored cones or tape can mark boundaries. Visual cues can also be important for kids with autism. 
  • Modified sandboxes: An elevated sandbox gives kids who can’t play on the ground a chance to dig. This gives children using wheelchairs the same creative and tactile play experience other children enjoy.
  • Outdoor hide-and-seek: This classic is a great way to get kids playing together. Plus, it integrates counting, visual perception, and turn-taking into the game.

Surfacing and Inclusivity

Not all surfacings are made alike. Playgrounds that include loose fill surfaces, such engineered wood fiber (EWF), do not facilitate inclusive play. Children and adults using wheelchairs cannot easily pass through these substances. For optimal inclusivity, it is recommended to use a unitary, flat surface such as No Fault’s Poured-in-Place Safety Surfacing or Bonded Rubber Mulch. No Fault Synthetic Turf also makes a great option for an inclusive play area.

Incorporating these surfaces not only provides a safer environment for children better protecting them from falls and accidents that may occur, but also makes it easier for children with mobile disabilities to access the play areas.

For more inclusive activities, see the Let’s Play Together! Guide published by National Council of Social Service and Singapore Disability Sports Council.

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No Fault can help with wheelchair accessible, all-inclusive playground surfacing, and playground design.  Request a quote today.  We are happy to assist you!

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