Beyond The Ramps: Defining Inclusive Design

A few years ago a new term started popping up in playground design. The word was ‘inclusion’. This term didn’t begin in the playground industry but we were adapting, taking cues from other industries shifting to involve the community at large. Still, even among those of us who understood the value of the word, we still kind of had no idea how to define it.

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In the past, we as an industry described playgrounds designed for children of different abilities as ‘Accessible’, and for many in the industry ‘Inclusion’ was just a new word for the same old design practices. Having now designed many inclusive playgrounds and seeing the impact these playgrounds have throughout a community, myself and the Park N Play team know this could not be further from the truth.

For us, accessible means just that: having access…but, for the most part, only that.  Ramps are added to playground structures so that children with mobility challenges could be above the ground. Yes, this will give individuals with mobility challenges access, but to a limited area of play. Plus, ramping is expensive. So, with only ramping as a solution, the playground industry was spending thousands of dollars per design to provide children ramps to go from ground level to a one-foot high deck with one or 2 activity panels. But that was it. And for the children limited to that one simple play area on the playground they were unintentionally segregated, left to play by themselves.

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So, when we started talking about Inclusive design, what was the change we were trying to bring about?

Accessibility is the first step towards inclusion. That’s important. It is a vital component but it is only one part. I have often said that “accessibility is halfway there” and I believe this to be true.

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Inclusive Playground Design begins by intentionally designing and selecting equipment that is more usable by more people, of all ages and abilities.

Equipment that can be enjoyed by children of all abilities, their friends, their families, and the greater community. That means seesaws that are designed so that both a child with a mobility device or a grandparent with a walker can easily transfer into the seat; Tactile and sensory play items so that children of all developmental levels can enjoy the entire play space with their friends; Swings designed so that children of any physical ability are safe and supported (we even add a second seat so that they can swing in unison with their friends or family members!); A merry-go-round that can fit a wheelchair right onto it so that everyone gets to whirl together.  These are just some examples of the Inclusive Playground Equipment design that is changing the industry.

And we don’t stop there. True inclusion takes place when we design a play space so that children of all abilities can play not just in the same space, but actually together.

Communicating with each other, cooperating with each other, and forming bonds of friendship and respect. Inclusion addresses the needs of the parents and extended family as well, with comfortable seating and shade areas.  In fact, we believe inclusion speaks to the needs and safety of the entire community, creating an inviting space to bring the entire community together, and strengthen it through the bonds it creates.

True inclusion takes place when we design a play space so that children of all abilities can play not just in the same space, but actually together.  

Tim Aylesworth, Park N Play Design

We believe inclusion doesn’t just create better play spaces, it creates a better world.  A world where we all have the opportunity to learn and grow through play. And through creating an inclusive place to play together, we create dynamic, hands-on experiences for all-ages and abilities to explore, learn and connect. Together.

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Curious about how you can bring inclusive play elements to your community playground? Let’s talk!