Summer is just around the corner, and we thought we would share some insights on accessible play and how you can do your part to ensure that all members of your community are included in safe and active opportunities outdoors. Accessible playgrounds are a hot topic these days, and you may find that accessibility has a wide positive reach in your life, whether or not you know or care for someone with a disability. You might be the parent of a toddler who is finding their stride for the first time this summer, or you might run a day camp or be in charge of a group of children who you want to be contained and safe within a space that they enjoy. You might be caring for a child with a broken leg or arm who needs accommodations but still desires the positive social and emotional benefits that playing outside can bring. And guess what… accessible playgrounds are spaces where any child, no matter their ability, can walk (or roll!) in and have fun exploring a space that is safe and appropriate for their unique needs.
Let’s start you off with a thinking routine, as we walk you through some guiding questions to help you analyze, question and understand the complexities in a playground space. Take a look at the following pictures:
- Describe what you see in Playground A and Playground B. What is similar between the playgrounds, and what is different?
- What features do each of the playgrounds have that welcomes people of varying abilities?
- Look at the different play structures in both of the playgrounds, and think about some of the different ways children can and/or cannot use the structure(s) for.
- What features would enhance the playground(s) to enhance play, communication, and social interaction?
The concept of a community playground may sound so simple, yet it can be so complex. Playgrounds are part of a public space, so essentially they should be accessible for all; all abilities, all families and all interests. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for the majority of families living with disabilities. For the disability advocates out there, you may have already had experiences with your local Parks & Recreation in your municipality where they either welcomed your voice and ensured that your concerns with creating a more accessible public space were addressed. Or (in more cases) you’d get the standard reply “.... thank you for your concern, city budgets can only go so far in maintaining and updating play spaces that already exist.”
We’re pretty sure as you read this that we are preaching to the choir, and we can all agree that community playgrounds are a great place to foster quality play. This is where children learn to solve problems, make decisions, persevere and interact with each other. For most children, they are able to naturally explore and play independently and with others. They can navigate across play structures while travelling across the monkey bars, pumping their legs back and forth to get the swing to go as high as it can go and start a game of tag with 5 simple words “Do you want to play?”.
Then there are children who need the physical assistance to get up on a play structure because there isn’t a ramp. Or have to sit and watch others on the swing, spin and move about because there isn’t an adapted piece of equipment. And wait…there are even children who can’t get into the physical space of the playground at all because there is no walkway or flat surface for a mobility device!
So…. what does an accessible space look like? Think about what is needed in a physical space in order to help children see the value in playing alongside each other. How can these spaces help everyone learn how to navigate and play in a positive way? What do these spaces need to have to help foster social interactions? Check out our co-founder Andrea Haefele’s Let’s Jumpstart to Play Beyond The Label review as she shares a playground that has set the gold standard for accessible community playgrounds.
At PBTL, we recognize that funding for cities to build accessible playground can be a barrier, however we also want to empower you to engage in conversations with community members about the accessibility of your neighbourhood spaces. So, here’s our request for you. Take a stroll to your community playground and ask yourself the following questions:
- What steps has your city taken to ensure your community playground is inclusive and accessible?
- What does an accessible playground look like to you?
- Is your city committed to creating an accessible space?
- How can they better promote inclusion?
- How can you and your city work towards that vision?
- Need some help to play beyond YOUR playground?
Your voice is a valuable tool in your community. Whether you have or care for someone with a disability, you can recognize areas of need and have a say in the inclusivity of your public space. Start inquiring and contact your local Parks, Forestry & Recreation department to provide a compliment or complaint. Don’t be afraid to share your praises and/or concerns! You also have the right to contact your MPP. You can find an MPP’s mailing address, phone number, and email address in the MPP contact information list here. Your MPP is responsible for voicing the concerns of a specific region within Ontario on behalf of the citizens who live within their riding. Alongside federal representatives, MPPs make decisions regarding how much money is given to fund services within cities such as Ottawa. Your voice may have a bigger impact than you think and can help many others in your community.
Over the next few months our PBTL team will be sharing how we use the Playground Accessible Look Fors in our upcoming summer playground reviews. AND we welcome you to do the same!