Kids Are Common Denominator

Parks and playgrounds provide some of the greatest memories of youth. For children, playing in a park, on a playground or at home is more than just fun. It is a way of exploring the world around them and building social, physical, cognitive, emotional and creative skills.

For children with special needs or disabilities, playing brings challenges that require extra consideration. Unfortunately, the park-design process has historically neglected the special needs of children who have disabilities. More and more communities, however, are now trying to create parks and playgrounds that are accessible to–and inclusive of–children of varying abilities and skill levels.

Creating an inclusive park that can be shared by all children requires an understanding of the diverse needs of those with disabilities. While the challenges are certainly complex–just consider the varying and different needs of children in wheelchairs and children who are blind–solutions can be found through careful consideration and a little creativity. The process begins with a shift in the designer’s mindset–a commitment to incorporating amenities and activities that will engage all children.

Finding ‘Common Ground’

Lakeland–a small city in Central Florida–is a prime example of a community benefiting from a fresh approach to park design. After a mother pointed out that her child with special needs couldn’t play on a piece of park equipment, the city hired Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin, a community planning and design firm, to modify existing equipment in the playground.

When everyone realized the opportunity at hand, what had begun as a simple playground modification evolved into a much larger project to create a community park environment for all children–those with and without disabilities–to interact with each other and with nature. Lakeland’s residents, policymakers and the design team embarked on a four-year journey to design and build an all-inclusive, eight-acre park that will be known as Common Ground.

“This truly is a community park–one that the community stepped up to build and that will welcome residents of all abilities,” said Bill Tinsley, Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Lakeland.

Designed on a butterfly theme, the park’s activity areas will be grouped into “lobes,” like sections of a butterfly’s wing. Designers incorporated a butterfly garden, a music zone, climbing equipment, swings and sways, a quiet story-time area, and a large section for natural, or adventure, play.

Children of all abilities will be able to interact in the natural play areas that will include accessible sand and water tables, a water pump where kids can explore cause-and-effect by pumping water into a stream bed below, rocks and boulders to sit and climb on, wheel-through tunnels and a universally accessible path that will elevate children eight feet over the rest of the playground. All of these features were designed for a wide variety of skills and are compliant with current Accessibility Guidelines criteria of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The principles used to develop Common Ground can help park designers everywhere create spaces where all children can learn, play, make friends and develop life skills. The following strategies have proven very successful:

· Take playing in wheelchairs to new heights. Children confined to wheelchairs don’t often experience life at different heights. Adding ramps and elevated paths can help them see environments from a different perspective. Also, new wheelchair swings and “sways” allow youngsters to roll their chairs onto skid-free platforms where they can experience and enjoy the sense of movement and excitement that other children find on traditional swings. Elevated sandboxes or activity tables, overhead bars and wheel-through arcades create opportunities for children in wheelchairs to interact with their friends.

· Using ramps and ropes, minimize transfer platforms. Many traditional playgrounds accommodate children in wheelchairs by using “transfer platforms” where they are lifted out of their chairs and placed on the ground to “scoot” across the play equipment. Such platforms put children in weakened positions and also draw attention to their disabilities.

Page 1 of 3 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Kids Are Common Denominator
  2. A Playground For All
  3. H.O.P.E. For The Best
  4. Sensory Play
  5. Boundless Playgrounds
  • Columns
  • Departments
  • Issues