Social inclusion for playgrounds

Two children are climbing on a rope web obstacle course.

Social inclusion is just as important as physical inclusion in playgrounds. So it isn’t always about special equipment or design.

It seems really difficult to create inclusive playgrounds without making them sound as if they are special places for children with disability. That was one finding from research in Switzerland. A commonly shared perspective was that a playground is only inclusive if it has special equipment.

So moving from “all-abilities” to “inclusive” might not have taken us any further forward in designer attitudes. But we don’t need a special label – a playground is a place for people of all ages – for everyone.

An inclusive playground could be any playground as long as children with disabilities are welcome there.

Study participant

The presence of other children with disabilities was important to give a feeling of belonging. This was particularly the case when other parents displayed negative attitudes towards their children.

Invisible barriers

The researchers found that lack of relevant policies and support from politicians was a key barrier. Participants felt that inclusion is not a policy priority when designing playgrounds. Consequently, funding to improve playgrounds was not forthcoming.

Despite years of global and international campaigning by disability groups, attitudes towards children with disability remain mixed. The classic claim is that there are so few children with disability in playgrounds (because you don’t see them). So why go to such lengths to make all playgrounds inclusive: “Because no child with a disability is coming anyway.”

Negative attitudes remain in the community leading to judgmental attitudes by parents of children without disability. Consequently, parents of children with disability did not feel welcome. So physical accessibility is only part of the story of inclusive playgrounds.

The title of the article is, Designing inclusive playgrounds in Switzerland: why is it so complex? Although the research is specific to Switzerland, the findings would apply in many settings. The researchers conclude that a universal design approach, which considers social inclusion, is the way forward.

The New South Wales Government is updating their very successful guide, Everyone Can Play.

Abstract

Playgrounds designed with the intention to be inclusive are one approach to creating equal opportunities for all children, including those with disabilities, in terms of their right to play. However, when building inclusive playgrounds, the focus is often limited to the physical environment.

Yet, studies investigating children’s play in inclusive playgrounds have shown that other aspects of inclusion, such as social inclusion, are equally as important as the physical environment. Nevertheless, there is a lack of knowledge about how inclusion is considered in the design of inclusive playgrounds.

Therefore, this study aimed to explore the design and use of inclusive playgrounds among people involved in the provision of inclusive playgrounds and advocates of children with disabilities from a Swiss context. Four focus groups were conducted with 26 participants involved in providing inclusive playgrounds or having a professional or personal relationship with children with disabilities.

Results revealed no uniform understanding of inclusive playgrounds. Barriers to inclusive playground provision included negative attitudes, lack of knowledge about
inclusion and the absence of policies for inclusion.

Through the focus group discussions, it was proposed that a community network is needed, to bring together children with disabilities and their families with playground providers when designing inclusive playgrounds. In this context, user involvement can inform the design of playgrounds and support the understanding of the needs of people with disabilities in playgrounds, among other things.

To enhance inclusion for children with disabilities on inclusive playgrounds, design approaches that consider social inclusion, like Universal Design, are proposed.