by Lisa Langer, PLA
Play areas at parks and schools are often designated as inclusive, but like designations of all types, those words mean different things to different people.
While attending the Play for All! Conference in Denver last month, I was dismayed when a local occupational therapist stated that she would "Venture out with patients more if she knew where inclusive playgrounds were located." Another attendee commented that if she knew the "lay of the land" when she first visited a park or playground, she know how to navigate the space for her needs (for example if she had a "runner" or someone who required quiet space and time during play).
These comments sent my mind reeling. Knowing that many landscape architects doing great work in Colorado strive to incorporate principles of universal and inclusive design, I realized there was big disconnect between us and health professionals that wanted to use the spaces we design.
I began to wonder, Is there a go-to source for outdoor spaces suitable therapy? Is there tangible value to therapists if a play area has inclusive aspects, but is not all-inclusive at every play event? How can landscape architects and therapists communicate more easily on this important subject?
Surely, all designers are designing playgrounds with inclusion in mind, but how do we communicate the different levels of inclusive play that we are providing. We design for creative play opportunities, discovery, and open-ended play, but subtleties in our design intent may not be clear to the users.
I wanted to see how to bridge this gap of communication between the realms of therapists, educators, and designers. Can we assist in providing a network of information that can Identify where folks of all abilities can go and not feel excluded? Let's start with a blog!
Where do I find "inclusive" play in Colorado?
I put myself in the therapists' shoes and went to work to answer my first question. Off to Google I went and the first website I found that looked interesting was Worldwide Inclusive Playground Finder. On this site, Colorado only had two inclusive playgrounds listed. Only two?! How could that be? I found it hard to believe, but at least it provided some initial information and provided a link that could use more activity (and needed some help identifying more parks in Colorado)! These were the two parks they listed:
Spring Canyon Community Park: Location described as “at the west end of Horsetooth Road, Fort Collins, Colorado." Clicking ‘View More’ on the aerial map page led to...well...nothing more.
Memorial Park: Location listed as 1605 E. Pikes Peak Avenue, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80901. Clicking ‘View More’ on the aerial map page led to nothing more. Again.
Next, I tried a website that my colleague Roger Burkart recommended. Playgrounds for Everyone is a community-edited guide to accessible playgrounds sponsored by National Public Radio. I searched for accessible playgrounds in my hometown, Erie, Colorado. The database had five results within ten miles and gave a list of park features. I had five more parks for my list.
Kids' Park at Lafayette Elementary School | Lafayette, CO: Features include smooth surface throughout, safety fence, ramps to play components, visually-impaired play components, sound-play components, and accessible swings.
Playground at E.B. Rains Jr. Memorial Park /| Northglenn, CO: Features include smooth surface throughout
Playground at North Midway Park | Broomfield, CO: Features include smooth surface throughout, ramps to play components, sound-play components, and accessible swings.
Sensory Park at Children's Hospital Colorado | Broomfield, CO: Features include ramps to play components and sound-play components.
Playground at Thornton Recreation Center | Thornton, CO: Features include smooth surface throughout and ramps to play components.
The Playgrounds for Everyone list isn't complete, and they ask visitors to "add a playground." This list may become a promising database in the future.
Satisfied with at least a start to answering my first question, I ventured to try an answer the next question, because, in all honesty, how much longer will I have your attention?
Do play areas with inclusive elements (but not 100% accessibility) have value to therapists?
For this search, I reached out to an Occupational Therapist for a local school district. She recommended several websites. The links below, have articles on subjects ranging from recess promotion to rules to break on playgrounds. My research of these links, confirmed (phew!) that Occupational Therapists are very creative and find the value in the play places we design as best they can. I enjoyed and found great insights at these sites!
Can we help assist in creating an information network that identifies where no one will feel excluded?
Lastly, what can I do to help with opening up communication on this issue? As a designer, I need to be vigilant about continuing to engage in this conversation. It may mean attending seminars such as Play for All!, following like-minded blogs, and keep linking myself and others into the vast web of information available on inclusive design. Delving into this network can lead to all kinds of stories and experiences to inspire us all. I found myself learning from moms, veterans, grandparents, health professionals, and even kids themselves!
What Is your Experience?
Where are inclusive places to play and work near you? How do you find inclusive places in your hometown or in your state? What are your favorite links? What is your story? Leave a comment below and let's talk.
More links to Try
Here are a few more links I found along the way. They are just too inspirational not to include:
Epic, Thrilling and Inclusive!
My fellow bloggers Carol Henry and Roger Burkart have recently completed a project that may become the gold standard for inclusive play environments. It is thrilling to see what they have done, and anyone designing new playgrounds would do well to look closely at their work: Inspiration Playground in Bellevue, Washington.
Thanks for reading!
This blog is part of a three-part series by Design Concepts on inclusive play environments. See The Play Brigade: Advocates for Inclusive Play by Roger Burkart, and Inclusive Play Design with Occupational + Physical Therapists by Carol Henry.