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How to Make Playgrounds More Inclusive for Children With Disabilities

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Playgrounds are a staple of childhood. They’re free, widely available and often reduce stress for moms and dads as they struggle through some of those tough days. The only problem is, not everyone gets to enjoy everything a playground has to offer. Playgrounds are only helpful to children who can access them, which makes it necessary to make sure playgrounds are inclusive to all children.

What Is the Difference Between Inclusive and Accessible?

One important point that needs to be made is that accessible doesn’t meant all children can enjoy the playground. In other words, accessible doesn’t mean inclusive. This is an important distinction because while playgrounds are more accessible these days than they used to be, they are still missing the mark.

In many cases, accessible means children with disabilities can get to the playground. In some cases, the playgrounds are compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and some of the equipment is as well, but most of it is still unusable for many children.

ADA-Compliant Isn’t Enough

It’s a common misconception that playgrounds are inclusive as long as they are ADA-compliant. Being ADA-compliant isn’t enough to make the playgrounds usable for all children, and there needs to be awareness about this issue.

For example, some playgrounds may have accessible swings that are designed for children with disabilities, yet the playground is covered in rubber mulch that is impossible for wheelchairs to move through. The worst part? The rubber mulch is actually ADA-compliant.

To create a truly inclusive playground for all children, it’s going to take some understanding of disabilities and how children will use the equipment, as well as the recognition that ADA-compliant doesn’t meet the requirements of all.

Build Awareness

One of the best things you can do as a parent is educate those around you and build awareness to the issues your local playgrounds have when it comes to children with disabilities. Parents who haven’t experienced a child with disabilities will likely be very surprised to learn that in the United States, one in six kids has a developmental disability and about another 5 percent have some other disability.

Start Small

Help your town understand that while an all-inclusive playground is very expensive, it’s OK to start small and make changes that have a big impact. Something as simple as replacing the rubber mulch in the example above with something more wheelchair-friendly would really help the playground become more inclusive, since it already has special equipment in place.

Analyze Your Current Playground

Take a look at your current playground and determine what’s working and what’s not. Do you have accessible equipment already? Is it easy for disabled kids to play with the other kids? Can all children easily get to the equipment and enjoy it?

Make a list of strengths and weaknesses as you analyze the playground, and try to look at it from the point of view of a child with disabilities. If you are a parent with an able-bodied child, ask a parent of a disabled child to join forces with you and objectively look at the playground. Consider all types of disabilities and the physical limitations that child may experience on the playground.

When you are looking at your current playground, don’t forget to consider parents in the mix. Parents need to have a comfortable place to sit and watch their children and be out of the hot sun, or they won’t want to use the playground as much. A nice seating area with benches under the shade of a few trees will change the playground environment and make it much safer with parents standing by. And remember, some parents have disabilities too!

Make an Action Plan

Once you know which areas are causing the most problems to children with disabilities, you can begin crafting an action plan. Prioritize the issues your playground has in order of importance and budget. Be objective.

Write this plan up and send it to the officials in charge of the playground. They may not act on your proposal, but it does help them to see there is a problem and that the community intends to do something about it.

Begin Raising Funds

There are many grants available to help cities pay for inclusive playgrounds because they can be expensive. Do your research and determine what’s needed to apply for a grant in your area. Additionally, you can gather a group of parents together and start a fundraiser with all proceeds going to the new playground.

In some cases, you’ll have a lot of support from the area you live in, but in others you may not. The important thing is to do what you can, when you can, where you can, and you will be one step closer to getting an inclusive playground for all children.

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Originally published: March 22, 2017
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