While ‘accessible’ and ‘inclusive’ are widely used in connection with children’s play spaces, they do not mean the same thing. A useful distinction is to think about access as the physical ability to get somewhere, while inclusion involves not just getting there but also feeling welcome and wanting to stay
Local authorities developing new and refurbished play areas with Government funding from the Play Strategy must ensure playgrounds are inclusive – and many current funding streams promote access for disabled children as a key outcome.
All services, whether provided by the public, voluntary or private sectors are governed by the Disability Discrimination Acts 1995 and 2005. These require that disabled people should not be treated ‘less favourably’ and secondly that ‘reasonable adjustments’ should be made to accommodate them. When the Disability Equality Duty 2006 came into force for all public bodies, its requirements went much further than those of the DDAs and aimed to make services and public spaces inclusive and not merely accessible.
These duties should be shaping the way children’s play areas are being designed, delivered and managed. Consultations should involve disabled as well as non-disabled children; promotional materials should show disabled children using and enjoying their public spaces, and for some children extra resources will need to be in place if they are to use the space at all.
Managers of parks and open spaces often find these requirements rather daunting and there is sometimes a feeling that the solution will simply be to provide ramps. But good inclusive practice is not difficult and inclusive provision is rarely about ramps!
Something that often gets forgotten is that disabled children have the same diverse range of play preferences and sense of fun as non-disabled children. Many disabled children enjoy challenging physical activity, a very small percentage of disabled children are wheelchair users and yet when the term disabled is mentioned, provision for wheelchair users is often seen as the only requirement.
Sensory play is often highlighted as being important for disabled children but non-disabled children will equally enjoy features designed to stimulate individual senses. The more choice and diversity of experience a play site offers, the better it will be. Good well-designed play areas will therefore naturally be inclusive.
In 2008 the Government and Play England published Design for Play: A guide to creating successful play spaces. This identifies ten key principles for designing successful play spaces.
Play areas that follow these principles should offer high-quality, inclusive play experiences to all children; the providers will have listened to local parents and children about any specific requirements and will have the flexibility to make alterations if necessary. Risk and challenge will be provided for the whole range of abilities and ages. One size has never really fitted all in a T-shirt and it won’t with a climbing frame either.
Another useful guide for those providing play spaces is Inclusion by Design, this has been produced by the disabled children’s charity KIDS which has produced recommendations around the design process, believing that it is much easer to start well than to go back and make changes at a later date.
Disabled children and their families often believe they will require specialist services and are therefore unaware of good facilities that already exist in their area. Public play spaces may not be popular places for some disabled children due to bad experiences in the past. For this reason, targeted advertising and information can be very important in highlighting facilities that already exist and encouraging disabled children and their families to try out the new play areas for themselves.
The provision of ramps and purchase of expensive specialist equipment might well lead to the creation of accessible play space, however an approach based on good practice, good design and real community engagement will result in something far more exciting, that is a truly inclusive play space.
Inclusive play spaces are by their nature quality play spaces and will offer challenge choice and fun – play for all.
By Judith Carrie (right) a Regional Development Officer with Play England.
The Disability Equality Duty requires that services, including play provision:
- Promote equality of opportunity
- Eliminate discrimination that is unlawful under the DDA
- Promote positive attitudes
- Encourage participation in public life
- Meet requirements, even if it requires more favourable treatment.
Play areas must:
- Be bespoke
- Be well located
- Use natural materials
- Offer a wide range of experience
- Be inclusive
- Meet community needs
- Allow different ages to play together
- Offer opportunities for risk and challenge
- Be sustainable and well maintained
- Allow for change and evolution.
An inclusive design process:
- Begins at the beginning
- Sees design and management as inextricable partners
- Takes account of user experience at every stage of development
- Is equally applicable to the development of landscapes, structure, materials and finishes, fixtures and fittings, management and information
- Brings together functional and aesthetic considerations (i.e. works well and looks good)
- Is regularly monitored and evaluated.
Play England aims for all children and young people in England to have regular access to and opportunity for free, inclusive, local play provision and play space. For more information, visit: www.playengland.org.uk
KIDS is working in partnership with Play England to support local authorities developing play areas as part of the national Play Strategy. For more information, visit: www.kids.org.uk/playengland