The Inclusion in Motion Playspace is a great example of a local community project. Similarly to the Touched by Olivia founders in Australia, a family decided to do something when they encountered the “don’t stare” moment. Their son’s limited opportunities for play with other children was the driving force behind their decision that this had to change. It all began with a small local committee.
Danise Levine from IDEA played an integral part in this collaboration as a designer. Universal design strategies are built into every aspect of the project. The Inclusion in Motion founders have a short story to tell on their Dream Big website.
The website includes an excellent video (below) of what the playspace will look like. It’s a good example of how a small community can come together for a common purpose and it showcases some of the best universally designed equipment available
What do children think of the play spaces designed by adults? Why not ask them? That’s what a two Norwegian researchers did, and what an interesting result they found. They asked kindergarten children what they liked best and made them comfortable. Children with and without disability mostly wanted the same things, but there were a few differences. The researchers found the answer to what makes kindergartens inclusive spaces for all children.
Asking small children what they want and what they like is not a common research method. Within a qualitative framework, children collaborated with researchers. They identified the places and spaces that made them feel comfortable and included. Small places equipped with different types of construction materials were a favourite.
Although the context is a supervised kindergarten, there are some interesting findings for unsupervised playspaces. These relate to both group play and parallel play. Fixed small places with non-organised materials were found to be group inclusive. Building blocks were attractive to all children.
The children guided the researchers through their outdoor spaces where they found many activities in parallel. Children formed their own groups for games. Some children with socio-emotional issues, were less at home in these games. However, the ability to move to an area to be alone might have been a positive response.
From the Conclusion
Small places with materials such as cushions and building blocks appear to be socially inclusive spaces for all children. We have to question our adult values in designing playspaces and the involvement of children with disability. Children have their own ideas of what is safe and fun.
“Our study has shown that there is still a discrepancy between ideology, children’s preferences and pedagogical practices. Children’s voices told that (dis)ability is a spatial phenomenon and guides the inclusive pedagogy closer to the dynamic between children, place and space.”
It’s fitting that a landscape architecture firm should tackle the topic of connection to Country. After all, they are the ones designing our outdoor spaces. NSW legislation dictates that Aboriginal heritage must be protected. Consequently, the responsibility falls to design professionals. It’s a means of enriching the built environment, and not just a legal necessity. So, it falls to landscape architects to lead the way.
A report by Arcadia Landscape Architects aims to show that engagement with First Nations people is not difficult. They are concerned that designers will unwittingly perpetuate the colonisation of space if they continue with established practice. As they say, it has to go beyond token responses of “ornamental recognition”. They add that engaging with First Nations people continues after the life of the design project.
The report aims to encourage the wider built environment industry to engage with First Nations people. The concept of Country is more than just land, water and sky. Country is language, family culture and identity, and is loved, needed and cared for.
“Arcadia emphatically rejects the softening of language when referring to British invasion and processes of colonisation. It is a trend for these processes to be referred to as “arrival” and “settlement”, however the softening of language perpetuates myths of terra nullius and denies First Nations people their history and suffering endured.”
The report covers:
Approach and a note on language
How to engaging with Knowledge holders
Engaging with Country, which has 5 steps and examples
Engaging with Industry
What to do when you can’t engage
Where to next? includes conducting cultural training
Arcadia collaborated with Budawang/Yuin researcher and spatial and cultural designer Dr Danièle Hromek and Yuin woman Kaylie Salvatori, Arcadia’s Indigenous Landscape Strategist, to develop this research report.
Dhaka, Bangladesh has an award-winning bamboo playspace. The collaboratively designed playspace is a venue for theatre and dance and a local gathering place for families. Bamboo artisans, children from the Peace Home and architecture students worked together throughout the project. The bamboo playspace brings together vulnerable children with local neighbourhood children. The International Union of Architects judged this project to be worthy of the Friendly and Inclusive Spaces Award.
The inclusive playspace was designed and built by bamboo artisans, children from the Peace Home and architecture students. It is part of Paraa’s Critical Architecture, Design and Sustainable Environments course. A fundamental part of the course is for students to work with a community to resolve spatial challenges. Hands-on projects such as this are challenging established educational practice at university level.
The playspace has a central open space where children can play or organise festivals and performances. The structure can accommodate around 200 people at three different levels. Specific features were designed to include therapeutic exercises for children. There are play features for younger children where adults can supervise. Older children gravitate to the more adventurous zone. The semi-shaded decks offer flexible space for workshops and places to hang out.
Paraa is a design and architecture studio in Bangladesh that takes a multi-disciplinary approach to design. Their vision is to create a commercially-sustainable architectural, design and planning practice.
Inclusive playspaces for all the family often means moving away from a “design by the catalogue” approach. Some manufacturers of ready-made “plonk-down” equipment are recognising this change. But an inclusive playspace is much more than the equipment. So, how will you know if the design is inclusive and accessible? An evaluation tool for inclusive playspace designers is therefore welcome.
From the UK comes the Play Parks Evaluation Tool. Accessibility is often evaluated independently from the play experience. The tool is designed to overcome this as It integrates inclusive design and the value of play. The following factors underpin the tool:
Accessibility: non-play aspects (parking, pathways, seating); through the objective evaluation of provision. Usability: play equipment design supporting use by individuals with differing levels of ability, encompassing Universal Design and focusing on an individual’s subjective evaluation of their experience. Inclusion: environments that can be used by as many individuals as possible on as many occasions as possible. Play types: physical, imaginative, or cognitive play, plus sensations including speed, rotation, and tactile experiences.
The article about the development of the tool covers the issues in depth. The tool consists of an infographic depicting a wheel with 16 spokes, one for each aspect of play. The aim is to fill in as many spokes as possible on any given site. It’s about moving from a position of viewing ‘general’ and ‘special’ features separately to a holistic approach. The tool is useful for developing new and existing sites.
Local play parks are key spaces within children’s geographies providing opportunities for physical activity, socialisation and a connection with their local community. The design of these key neighbourhood facilities influences their use; extending beyond accessibility and installation of equipment when seeking to create a location with usability for all. This paper reports on the development of an evaluation tool, which supports the review and development processes linked to play parks. The Play Park Evaluation Tool (PPET), which is evidence-based in content and developed with a multi-disciplinary approach drawing on disciplines from the Built Environment and Health Sciences (occupational therapy), considers key areas contributing to the accessibility and usability of play parks. Aspects evaluated include non-play features such as surface finish and seating, recognising the relevance of these in creating accessible, usable spaces for play. This alongside assessment of installed play equipment to evaluate the breadth of play options available and how these meet the needs of children and young people with varying abilities or needs. The paper describes PPET’s creation, the revision process undertaken, and its subsequent use across three stages of a play park’s development. Key to achieving facilities with high play value is the provision of a varied play experience. To support this the evaluation of play types offered is integrated within the tool. This in-depth appraisal is supported by the creation of an infographic illustrating the resulting data and provides a method by which this information is presented in an accessible form. This visual representation contributing to the decision-making process undertaken by those responsible for the provision of play parks.
It’s not often a conference presentation slide deck becomes a mini training course. But Mary and Sally Jeavons achieved this at the inaugural Australian Universal Design Conference. The slides show lots of different examples of inclusive, creative and adventure play. It’s a quick tour of inclusive, creative and adventure play.
The title of the Jeavons presentation is, Designing Play Spaces for Inclusion: Devilish details that make a difference. This presentation focused on the design of parks and play spaces and their potential for intergenerational play, social interaction and community building. And, of course, for interaction with the natural world. As Mary Jeavons said, play equipment in a neatly fenced rubber space, cannot meet all of the play needs of today’s children and families. A very useful presentation using images that tell the story.
It is not easy to successfully include “un-designed” elements into playspaces. Plantings, sand, and large river pebbles need maintenance and resistance to local residents complaining about “mess”. There are also budget considerations. With increased urban density the need for adventure play becomes more important. All children have a right to use parks and open spaces. Time to move beyond the “plonk down” catalogue swing set and slide.
The amount of space required for physical distancing due to COVID-19 highlights how valuable our public space is. An important point raised in the 2020 Canadian City Parks Report. Parks form a critical backbone of community infrastructure particularly in times of stress. However, not everyone feels welcome and respected in public space. There are systemic inequities related to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. So more parks and open streets aren’t the answer to these issues, particularly at this time of a pandemic.
The City Park Report can also be read as a guide with sections with five themes:
Each theme has an Overview, Data, and Stories. The report is based on 25,000 responses to the Park People‘s 2019 report.
The Inclusion section begins with the issue of homelessness and displacement. Not something usually thought of under this heading. However, they have some interesting responses to this issue from a parks perspective. People with disability get a separate sub-section. And, of course, as usual, this topic appears at the end of the report.
Nicely presented, but fiddly to access, back and forth for the different sections. The Executive Summary provides an overview of the report.
A separate study, Participatory planning for the future of accessible nature, extends the thinking in this report. Available from Tanfonline or request a copy of the paper on ResearchGate.
Playspace designers have an important role to play in society. That’s because play is an essential part of human development. And as society evolves so too should playspaces. In line with the concepts of universal design, playspaces are evolving and designers are improving as they go. Adventure playspaces are evolving too.
The recent move away from control and safety to adventure play offers plenty of room for creative designs. Recycled, natural or found materials rather than manufactured equipment allows for imaginative play. It means a lot to parents to have an inclusive playspace for their whole family.
An article in Landscape magazine covers the topic of play and design features. It has several good examples to share although they don’t appear to be inclusive. Nevertheless, some of the landscape architects featured are making their designs more inclusive. The Evolution of Playspacesis an informative article for anyone involved in playspaces.
An article from Denmark discusses the dangers of standardized playground equipment designed by adults with no input from children, who prefer to make their own play. You need institutional access for a free read.
Play is children’s “work”. They set themselves challenges and most like to take risks. It’s how they grow and develop. But not all children get the opportunity to participate in adventure play. Disadvantaged backgrounds and disability are just two reasons. Underestimating what a child can do can also be a barrier to inclusion. Good to see some work on adventure play and children with disability.
We are moving from a culture of controlled play to one of letting children explore through free play. Parents of children with disability are seeking more opportunities for their child to participate in these play experiences. However, most children with disability will need adult guidance or help, so care-givers need to be considered too.
A research paper from Italy proposes that we should promote greater participation in risky play beginning by involving children with disability in the design process. The paper covers the literature on play and the benefits to health and development and the right of all children to participate. Making the play space “accessible” is necessary but insufficient to make it inclusive.
Abstract: Children show a universal propensity to perform thrilling and exciting play activities that involve some kind of risk: climbing or jumping at great heights, swinging, playing or engaging in rough and tumble play. Free risky play, which can be observed also in several mammalian species, has an evolutionary function, as it offers the opportunity to learn life skills, to master age-adequate challenges, to manage fears. Reasonable risk taking in play is a fundamental factor in gross motor, cognitive and emotional development (Sandseter, 2011). Adults’ concerns about children safety as well as social and environmental factors may severely limit children’s opportunities to engage in free risky play, compromising their overall health and wellbeing. For children with disabilities, free risky play is even more crucial than for their peers without disabilities, but they often face major barriers (e.g. lack of accessible playgrounds, overprotective attitude of caregivers) that can prevent them from fully benefiting from the opportunities afforded by this kind of play experience.The aim of this paper is to investigate the state of the art as regards studies on children with disabilities participation in free risky play, and to identify areas for further research.
Similarly to museums, a visit to a national park is an experience. So, applying universal design principles is more than just being accessible – it has to be inclusive. Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park is a great place for a case study.
A master’s report identified four factors for inclusive national parks: accessibility, enrichment, engagement and multi-sensory experiences. The research compared and analysed several international landscape projects before devising an extended guide to the Universal Design Guide by the American Society of Landscape Architects. The document includes many illustrations and projective designs.
“Universal design is an important, emerging practice that strives to create inclusive experiences for every person who visits a place, no matter their abilities. This report examined acts and guidelines currently used to inform the design of inclusive spaces, finding key gaps. The new guidelines were then applied to the projective design for Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. The projective design illustrated new possibilities for amenities to support accessibility, enrichment, engagement, and multi-sensory elements, thus creating a more inclusive and immersive site experience. Although many aspects of universal design can be achieved in a site design, there are unique challenges that designers must address for each project.”
Cross makes an important point about incorporating universal design features into the concept design and not leaving to a later stage:
“Although universal design stresses creating spaces for complete user access, that may affect the preserved landscapes. Also, it is important to incorporate universal design strategies in the early stages of design. A big challenge to adding universal design components into projects is cost, but incorporating them into concept design and continuing to strengthen them in schematic and final design phases will only assert the value that they play.”