According to Disability charity, Scope UK, 7% of children in the UK are disabled. Of these disabled children, 286,000 children aged between 0 and 17 years have a learning disability as per the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, part of the Mental Health Foundation. That's a significant number of children that enjoy outdoor play too and are entitled to the right and opportunity to play. That means they need the right practical facilities at school, nursery or their local public park.
Just as each child is unique, so is each disability and each child's needs vary. Disability can be physical, involving a wheelchair or other walking aids, sensory, such as being deaf, or a wide spectrum of mental health conditions and learning difficulties from Autism or ADHD.
At Bridge Timber Play we promote inclusive play and believe in making playgrounds suitable for children of ALL abilities as it makes sense that if non-disabled children regularly mixed with children with impairments from a younger age, stigma, embarrassment and discrimination will be broken down and ultimately eliminated from society- it all starts with play!
Here are 5 ways in which a playground can be suitable for children with a mental, physical or learning disability.
1) Wheelchair Welcome - A playground is no good if wheelchairs aren't able to easily get around the different apparatus and effortlessly enter the playground in the first place. Wide gateways and entranceways make parks and playgrounds much more accessible, whilst firm and safe pathways that are around 1.2m plus in width and link different bits of playground equipment together make it simpler for children with visual impairments, walking aids and wheelchairs to get from one part of a playground to another.
2) Wheelchair Access - When many of us think of 'disability' a wheelchair springs to mind. Indeed, it is the most visible aspect of a disability. Playground equipment can have wheelchair access, such as exciting roundabouts having comfortable yet safe wheelchair stations with support rings to secure very young children and toddlers. These roundabouts can also feature standing and conventional seats to cater for children without disabilities so children of all abilities can play alongside one another. Roundabouts are just one example of playground equipment that can have disability access. Fun wheelchair swings enable children with disabilities to enjoy the thrilling sensation of swinging, whilst wheelchair ramps to raised decks and platforms mean children with disabilities can share in the exhilarating experience of height.
3) Sensory Play - Playgrounds don't have to solely focus on burning energy and exercising. Reachable sandpits, water tables and other equipment, which provide a variety of textures, for example, soft spongy apparatus, can stimulate and fascinate children of all abilities and provide endless fun in the form of splashing and creative sandcastle building. Brightly coloured, visually captivating board games like Snakes and Ladders, painted onto a playground floor can also pave the way for confidence building and inclusive socialising for children of all backgrounds.
4) Levelling it Up - Sensory play doesn't just have to centre around touch and sight. Outdoor musical instruments can delight children's ears. Sensory play apparatus, educational play panels, basketball hoops, outdoor instruments and similar play equipment can be located at different levels so a playground can have different and dynamic 'layers'' accessible to children of all abilities.
5) Downtime - While children with hearing impairments may not be able to partake in the use of outdoor musical instruments they can enjoy the visual pleasure of drawing on an outdoor chalkboard or playing in the sand. Similarly, visually-impaired children may appreciate the outdoor musical instruments. Either way, children of all abilities deserve and need beautiful quiet places to unwind. Playgrounds can include comfortable benches surrounded by calming nature and plants where young people can gather their thoughts, relax with friends and retreat from all the chaos of a typical playground.
For ideas on how to develop an inclusive playground experience for children at your school, organisation or in your area, contact Bridge Timber Play today.