Playgrounds and special needs: how play supports disabled children’s learning

As you’ll remember from your own childhood memories, playgrounds are a place for children to adventure and explore with their friends. They offer numerous benefits in terms of helping children socialise and get active, but could they also support learning for disabled children?

Sensory playground equipment specialists Infinite Playgrounds discusses the current accessibility of UK playgrounds and the potential benefits they can bring for disabled children.

Disabled access to playgrounds in the UK

According to an early 2016 report by the charity Sense, disabled children are missing out on making friends and enjoying playtime as a result of non-accessible playgrounds. Shockingly, it’s not just equipment that is leaving disabled children on the side-lines — most parents of disabled children say they have experienced negative attitudes from other parents at playgrounds.

Speaking of the Case For Play enquiry, Lord Blunkett said: "We know that play is vitally important for children with multiple needs and their families, bringing a wide range of developmental and emotional benefits.

However, our inquiry found that all too often the parents of children with multiple needs point to barriers they face in accessing and enjoying play. It means that disabled children playgroundchildren don't have the same chance to form friendships, and parents are prevented from taking a break from caring.”

Over the course of the inquiry, it was found that a huge 90% of families felt their child did not have the same play opportunities as other children. Likewise, more than 50% of families with a disabled child had been turned away from play areas that did not comply with Equality Act standards.

The benefits of playgrounds for disabled children

What learning benefits are disabled children missing out on through playground exclusion? As we have already mentioned, play helps all children develop problem-solving skills, build relationships with friends and stimulate their mind. When this isn’t available, play deprivation can occur.

Play deprivation in children is especially problematic as it can lead to withdrawal, reduced concentration, aggressive behaviour and poorer social skills. Through their exclusion from some playgrounds and play areas, disabled children have a higher risk of suffering from play deprivation, which depending on their individual needs, could cause further complications.

By creating genuinely inclusive playgrounds, we can eliminate the problem of play deprivation for all children, not just those with disabilities. So how are truly play inclusive spaces created? The following should be carefully considered in the design and installation of a playgrounds that accommodate children of all abilities:

• Challenging — parents may be cautious about the level of risk posed by playgrounds but the reality is that in order for a play space to remain engaging, it needs to contain a level of risk. Through conquering risk, children are able to develop their abilities.

• Accessibility — playgrounds should be fully accessible for all children. Generally, the playground should be positioned in an area that offers easy wheelchair access. Likewise, some playground equipment can also accommodate children in wheelchairs. However, it is also important to include play equipment that can be used without wheelchairs, in order to present new experiences and exciting challenges to those with mobility issues.

• Universal — from equipment for those who are visually impaired, deaf or with mobility difficulties, a playground should cater to a range of impairments in order to be truly inclusive. 

• Seamless — to bring down the barriers surrounding disabilities, all children should be able to play together. Equipment should be designed to be used and enjoyed by all, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. 


September 11, 2017

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