Plan Inclusive Play Areas

For most of us we navigate through our surroundings without much thought as to how we got to where we wanted to be and generally don’t question how we will use a space when we get there. For those with disabilities or for the carers of those with disabilities it’s a very different narrative. As landscape designers, I’m sure we have all been guilty at some point of believing that we understand what makes something accessible and inclusive without really thinking about the diverse needs of the end users. Possibly because of the widely used wheelchair logo used to depict the status of a disabled person the perception of a disability is often incorrectly seen as only someone being in a wheelchair. This perception of inclusivity is causing many public spaces fail those who are in greater need for a more considered design solution.

For carers of children with disabilities play areas in particularly can be a disheartening experience. It is often overlooked how essential play is to the physical, mental and social development of a child. The importance of play encourages you to question why it is not accessible to everyone. Whilst the ethos for the design of play areas has come a long way in the last decade with significant improvements the character and setting of play spaces as well as some improvement to the accessibility there is still that additional level of understanding of disabilities that is required.

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We had the pleasure of meeting a group of inspiring people at a conference, organised by Inclusive Play, who are educating themselves through creating partnerships and undertaking research with the aim to rectify this misconception of inclusivity in regard to children’s play spaces. Inclusive Play is a play equipment company with a specific goal. They are using their knowledge and skills to develop play spaces as well as the equipment the goes in them so that the facility is for every child regardless of ability. The most significant aspect is that they are not just working towards having play for all children with disabilities but to ensure that these children can play together with children without a disability, therefore to be truly inclusive.

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Inclusive Play is actually taking the quality and awareness of inclusive play spaces one hop, skip and a jump further. They have set up system to appraise play area design against a set of criteria which looks at the wider needs of children with learning, mental or physical disabilities. The PIPA scheme can assist local authorities, planners and landscape architects to create new inclusive spaces where the criteria can act as part of the design brief. In addition retrospective assessments can use the same criteria to assist with recommendations on how to bring play space up to a PIPA standard. Two categories are identified, PIPA Community: your smaller, Local, mostly public facility and PIPA Destination, an often larger play area with more facilities which may be public or in a private location open to the public.

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It doesn’t stop there, the PIPA accreditation scheme not only acknowledges quality inclusive design it helps to spread the word to the wider public who may wish to visit a fully inclusive PIPA play space. A directory and map of PIPA approved play spaces is available so carers can plan their visits. The map also includes photographs of the play area, allowing parents to see the play area and decide if it is suitable for the needs of their family. The PIPA Map can be found here: http://www.inclusiveplay.com/map/

The opportunity to hear from the parents of children with disabilities and the challenges the parents face when trying to provide an enjoyable experience for their family really made us appreciate how beneficial this information is to them. PIPA is not just a useful tool for the parents, it allows the children who face some of these difficulties to choose what play area they go to and what area would make them feel most comfortable.

The conference really highlighted the responsibility we have as landscape architects to help champion the ethos that truly accessible and inclusive play areas become the norm.

Inclusion Diagram

The diagram represents the various ways that children are often excluded or segregated in play areas and how some attempts to integrate children are not fully inclusive. The top circle shows the what the PIPA scheme is aiming to achieve.