What Does Inclusive Play Mean to You?

Category: News and Updates

Date: December 30, 2021

Inclusive? All-inclusive? Universal? Accessible? Integrated?  We receive many proposal requests from municipalities looking to create “inclusive playgrounds” in parks around the region.  While this is a wonderful sentiment, it leaves our staff asking, “what does inclusive play mean to you”?  Without an answer to this question, it is hard to know exactly how to respond to the request.  There are a variety of approaches to inclusive play depending on your desired expectations and goals.  
So Landworks Studio wanted to share their perspective on this topic.
Landworks Studio strives to create play experiences that engage all users, regardless of age, mental or physical abilities to play and interact together in a fun and active environment.  Our goals are to achieve the highest level of physical and emotional experiences for every participant, with the understanding that this means different things to different people with varying abilities and interests.  
When you see a playground full of a series of ramps to panels and short slides, it is hard to consider this a success even though a person in a wheelchair is able to access all of the elements.  These types of play structures are not appealing for most users and in effect, excludes able-bodied children from engaging with physically challenged users.  Successful inclusive playgrounds balance the needs of all users, while offering diverse activities that encourage social interaction for playground users to come together in a variety of ways.  
Additionally, there are more studies and research completed by playground manufacturers, educating us on just how impactful playgrounds can be for those with learning disabilities, site impairments and behavioral disorders, among others.  Parents and care givers have become involved to ensure designers and city officials are aware of all the ways playgrounds can be designed to benefit all users.  
Some of the items that are essential for an inclusive playground include:

  • Accessible Surfacing - Poured-in-place surfacing or artificial turf perform the best for accessibility standards.
  • Ground Level Play – Spinners and rockers, in addition to play panels, are accessible from ground level or short ramps.
  • Slides, Spinners and Swings – These elements are highly favored by all users and are beneficial for brain development and core strengthening.  Rollers on slides and baskets for swings allow users with compromised trunk control to participate alongside others.
  • Prospect and Refuge – To provide a comfortable environment for everyone, the ability to survey the surroundings to determine safety is a critical component.  Even better is if a line of sight can be offered from a place of refuge.  Regardless, a quiet place on a playground separated slightly from the higher levels of activity and noise is a desirable feature for any user who may become over stimulated.

“No Two Kids Are The Same, But They All Like To Play” is the tagline for the company Inclusive Play.  In their model, it is key to focus on the “Six Senses of Play”.  These include Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, Vestibular (motion and balance) and Proprioception (perception of body, movement, and position).  The more of these senses the playground and the selected play components can stimulate, from both the seated and the standing position, the better the playground will be for all users.   
Additional inclusive elements to consider:

  • Fencing/Barriers – For many care givers, a fenced playground is a desirable feature to ensure one entry/exit point.  This prevents anyone from wandering too far off-site.  
  • Family Restrooms – This amenity is especially helpful if it includes an adult changing station for caregivers and their users.
  • Shade and Seating – Although these items go without saying, don’t forget to include resources in your budget for these items to ensure a comfortable place for all.

Some recent inclusive playgrounds Landworks Studio has designed include:
Landworks Studio and Kompan were honored to work with the City of Kansas City and the 15 and the Mahomies Foundation to create a destination playground that is not only challenging to able-bodied children but provides plenty of unique challenges for children with disabilities as well.  Play is a fundamental human right and it was our goal to create play spaces that are rich in activities for ALL children, regardless of their ability level.  The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Square Park will bring children of all backgrounds and walks of life together for years to come!
Community Park in Jefferson City, MO was renovated and re-opened in 2020 to visitors of all ages and abilities to explore the park’s diverse offerings!  The unitary surfacing throughout ensures that all areas of the park are accessible, including the shelter and splashpad.  The nest swing, hammock, and smaller net structure with rubber mat seating, are all highly inclusive – children can experience them individually by lying down or together with multiple users.  Not only is this a great improvement for the City but provides a robust play experience for all.   
In the first phase of Meadowbrook Park with the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District, Landworks Studio created a smaller sensory play area that includes sand play and musical instruments.  The elevated sand play was designed to be a barrier-free element for all children to engage with and the variety of musical instruments are easily played by adults and children of all ages and abilities and offers a unique play experience that connects people to their creativity in outdoor environments!

In the latest phase of work at Meadowbrook Park, the Johnson County Park and Recreation District asked Landworks Studio to help create an all-inclusive playground. The play space is completely fenced in. We teamed up with SFS Architecture who designed an adjacent accessible restroom and large picnic shelter. To learn what would best suit special-needs park users, we consulted with a team of local doctors and therapists. Ultimately, we designed a playground that maximizes opportunities for play by those with mobility issues. Most of the playground is accessible to those in wheelchairs, including a unique swing and a roller slide. Ample turf mounds, embankment slides, spinners, and an 8-foot-tall slide also provide adventurous play opportunities for other special needs groups. We look forward to watching this playground get constructed during the spring and summer of 2022.

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