Sensory Play

Jeff Burley, adaptive recreation manager for Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation, is charged with bringing sports and recreation opportunities to individuals with disabilities. So, in the fall of 2008, when he learned about a West Jordan Rotary Club project to build the county’s first Miracle League ballparks, he was enthused.

He worked closely with the club and the city of West Jordan to find a site for the ballpark, fund the project and oversee the installation and programming of the field.

However, it was not until installation of the park started in May 2009 that he stumbled upon another idea—one that would take the facility to another level.

Rethinking Inclusive Playgrounds

“I … made a call [to] Johnny Franklin, Miracle League’s development director, to discuss recommendations for companies that could supply benches for the dugouts. He mentioned Landscape Structures,” says Burley. “He told me about the work … [the two organizations] were doing to build inclusive playgrounds adjacent to their adaptive ball fields and, of course, I was intrigued.”

Well, more than intrigued. He wanted one.

The idea of inclusive playgrounds is not new. It dates back more than 20 years.

In the beginning, most inclusive play efforts focused on getting children with ambulatory disabilities to playground equipment. Park planners and designers at city parks created pathways and ramps to take children with mobility devices up to and around the play systems and freestanding play events so they could be part of the action rather than watch the fun from afar.

A major chasm had certainly been crossed, but this solution also exposed another problem—getting kids to play structures was one thing, but providing appropriate play elements that could be enjoyed by children of all abilities—together—was something else entirely.

As Steve King, cofounder of Landscape Structures and a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (FASLA) observed, play is more than just proximity.

“Once we found ways for children with disabilities to get to the play structures, our designers shifted our focus to providing developmentally appropriate play experiences that all children could enjoy together,” says King. “Over the last decade our new inclusive play products such as the SwayFun glider have given children with diverse abilities exciting things to do on the playground. They were welcomed as full participants in play. Our latest initiative in sensory play is an important extension of that concept, and it will also bring many new children to playgrounds at schools and city parks.”

Accessible, Developmentally Appropriate and Sensory

The facts are sobering.

Nearly a million children in the U.S. have autism spectrum disorders—and this number has risen dramatically over the last decade. Add to this group the thousands of children with sensory deficits due to Downs Syndrome, developmental delays and other disabilities and the problem becomes clear there is a large population of children who could be better served by a different type of playground—one in which play events maximize the visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular and proprieoceptive stimuli that are most attractive to children.

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