Dedicated to creating playgrounds with universal designs that support equality in play, KOMPAN Australia has released a new publication that highlights the importance of inclusive play and provides guidelines on creating spaces for all.
KOMPAN was founded on the principle that “children unfold their imagination through play and thereby learn and develop their social and cognitive skills.” Its play and activity solutions are designed to encourage fun while promoting the development of physical, social and learning skills. Children and adults alike are encouraged to learn and play together, regardless of their abilities.
Utilising over 40 years of experience in designing play solutions, including children with disabilities; and combining this with the increased focus it has placed on observational studies and insights over the past five years, KOMPAN shares its findings in its new Play For All: Universal Design for Inclusive Playgrounds publication. It brings together observations, insights and new research on accessible, inclusive and universal play equipment and playgrounds, and provides a number of recommendations for planners and designers to use as a guide.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) recommends a universal design methodology as the most efficient way of ensuring equality of access to and use of public services and facilities. This means applying an inclusive approach to all public planning – and this includes the school playground.
As playground planners and designers, equal possibilities for outdoor play is crucial. But, many can struggle with the guidelines and directions for planning inclusion when it comes to playground design. This goes far beyond accessibility. Motivating and including all users by offering relevant, useable solutions is where the big challenge lies. Very specialised designs can sometimes have the effect of stigmatising rather than including. Highly accessible spaces can lack thrill and excitement. Though accessible, they can be perceived as boring. It is all about finding the right balance.
Studies show that children with disabilities who play with typically developing children grow and develop an understanding of their own abilities and strengths, and develop a more positive image of themselves. For typically developing children, direct contact with peers with disabilities has a positive impact on their tolerance and empathy.
Play areas need to be both accessible and relevant. An accessible, inclusive and universal playground should consider the widest number and range of potential users possible, including children with and without disabilities, as well as parents and carers with or without disabilities.
To ensure accessibility, spaces should provide sufficient access for both foot traffic and wheelchairs, along with firm safety surfacing and firm pathways to play activities. To cater for a wide range of users, spaces should also feature multiple access points.
As highlighted in the Play for All publication, there are six universal playground design points:
- Accessible, inclusive routing and infrastructure: This includes accessible surfacing to and around activities, clear design signals, and alternative entrances and exits to the play area and equipment.
- Access to relevant ground-level activities: Surfacing around play activities needs to be accessible, there should be varied access possibilities into and onto play activities, and play activities should support varied body positions.
- Access to relevant elevated-level activities: Consider the access and egress motivation and possibility of elevated-level activities, and consider the thrill levels and the social benefits of elevated levels.
- Support thrilling and challenging play: Offer thrilling activities such as spinning, swinging, swaying, bouncing, gliding or sliding; along with graded play challenges – some that are easier and some that are harder; and offer variations of thrill including physical, social, cognitive and sensory.
- Support social interaction: This refers to activities that can be done together with others. Two of each parallel play options are also great for training social skills.
- Variation in play activities: Provide wild and quiet activities; provide physical, social and cognitive-creative activities; and offer spaces for breaks such as seating.
There are also six points to consider for universal play equipment design:
- Ground-level usability.
- Responsive or thrilling.
- Play from all sides (i.e. 360 degree design).
- Two-sided play activities on play panels.
- Transparency in design.
- Multifunctional whenever possible.
Spinners and carousels can be great examples of inclusive, universal play equipment. Spinning and rotating trains the senses of balance and spatial awareness. These crucial motor skills help children to sit still on a chair, for example. The training of balance is particularly important for children with autism and vision impairments, as well as a range of physical disabilities. Springers and seesaws train the vestibular system, and the understanding of cause and effect. Bouncers and swayers add thrill or comfort depending on their intensity, helping to develop spatial awareness and train the sense of balance. Swinging also trains spatial awareness and the sense of balance. Sand and water play on the other hand creates sensory stimulation.
By creating a universal playground that caters to various skill levels and abilities, all users benefit.
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