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PlaygroundEquipment Blog
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Accessible Playground: Addressing Playtime and Special Needs

accessible-fun-hoops
It’s twice the fun with playmates!
Did you know that in 2010 around 2.8 million school-aged children were reported to have some form of disability? That's 5.2% of the 53.9 million of US civilians between the ages of 5 and 17, and frankly, probably more than the number you thought represented children with special needs. Champions of accessible playground equipment had reason to rejoice though when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made it a basic civil right to be able to access play areas, with new standards set in place that required playgrounds to feature play equipment and surfaces that disabled children can use. It's a big leap for supporters of inclusion because now the law is on their side. Unfortunately, the fight is still not over because there are still limitations hindering children with disabilities from completely enjoying commercial playground equipment. One of these is the fact that the new ADA guidelines for playground equipment only apply to playgrounds made or altered after March 15, 2012. This means that older playgrounds are not required to follow the rules set by the ADA, making many play areas still unwelcoming for children with special needs.

The role of playtime in children with special needs
At the heart of it, the effects of playtime are universal for all children. Playtime will look all fun and games but it plays a very serious role in the holistic development of a child, ensuring that your little one has what they need physically, emotionally, and psychologically. For children with special needs, the road is rougher though. Children with disabilities have to deal with a lot of challenges as it is but they stand to have poorer interpersonal relationships because many of them don't get as much playtime as their able counterparts do. Hence, they lose out on properly developing social skills needed by everyone to thrive in a social setting. But it's not that children with disabilities choose to stay on the sidelines, projecting an image of passivity. This is wrong but it's the usual idea that both adults and children have. It's just that they can't join in when they want to. It's going to be a different story though with ADA approved playground equipment. With ADA compliant playground equipment, children with special needs are provided the opportunity to gain a sense of individuality and self-confidence because they'll feel competent playing on playground equipment they can actually use. And because able children can use the same equipment, this will foster social interaction not just between children with special needs but with all children as well.

The importance of special needs playground equipment
Given the emphasis on how playtime is beneficial to a child, it follows that increased time spent in a play area will be good for your little one. But what happens when you have a child with special needs? You want to take them to a playground but will they be actually able to play in it? They probably can't.  A playground for children with special needs has to be an accessible playground. This means it won't discriminate who uses it. It will have something for everyone. And because it has something for everyone, it welcomes all. Being treated like they are no different from ordinary kids is important to children with special needs because it gives them the opportunity to feel that they belong. They may be different in some aspects but with the help of ADA approved playground equipment they can easily play with other kids from their neighborhood. It's not easy finding accessible playgrounds for kids so community playground equipment handicapped children will be appreciated. It's not unusual for families, after all, to spend 45 minutes on the road just to get to a playground for a loved one with special needs. And with that kind of commute required, it's unavoidable that sometimes playtime has to take a back seat, affecting the child's development.

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Fun with textures at the sand table

Playground design and inclusive space
In order for an accessible playground for children to be effective, it must draw upon universal design principles that take into account the range of psychological and physical abilities that children have, guaranteeing that the play area would indeed be an inclusive space everyone can use equally. Though a major component, physical access is just one aspect of it, like how the 2-Basin Accessible Sand & Water Table is designed to allow wheelchair-bound children to participate in the fun without any trouble by meeting the minimum vertical knee clearance set by the ADA for play tables (Guidelines called for at least 24 inches of space and the Sand & Water Table met this by standing 30 inches from the play surface.), or how the Wheel Thru Arcade is set up at a height of 48 inches from the ground for easy access, clearly meeting standards in place for upper body equipment for individuals on mobility devices that require the equipment to be no more than 64 inches in height. A real playground for all kids though will take into consideration that activities within the play space should create opportunities for children with varying abilities to interact with each other as well as their families. The Modern Bipod Combination Swing does just this, putting together a swing set with one ordinary seat and another that can accommodate a wheelchair so wheelchair-bound individuals can know the joys of riding a swing. While it may seem that an inclusive play space focuses more on aiding children with special needs, the truth is that it benefits all children. Regardless of ability, children get an understanding of the world and learn to appreciate differences when they play with handicap playground equipment so they become more tolerant of diversity and accepting of perspectives that differ from theirs.

combination-swing
Who doesn't like a swing ride?

Let the children (and children at heart) play
Different playground equipment for disabled children are great because of the many opportunities they open up for little ones to grow and develop. Not to mention that specialized playground equipment can also be a haven for adults with special needs who are looking for interesting ways to have fun and interact with others. The community stands to gain so much from simply getting the right playground equipment and the task isn’t even gargantuan. With Playground Equipment, all you have to do is pick out the parts of the playground you need and you’re set. Innovative solutions for both residential and commercial spaces are available so options await you no matter what kind of play area you are interested in. Make the most out of your efforts today with Playground Equipment to ensure that children with varying abilities will have what they need to become the best they can be tomorrow. 

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