A truly inclusive and embracing play experience addresses the developmental needs of the whole child intentionally providing opportunities for physical, cognitive, communicative, social/emotional and sensory development. Universally designed playgrounds seek to create usable play environments which recognize everyone's right to fully participate in equitable play opportunities and independently engage in the lifelong developmental benefits of play.
Programs and special events at inclusive playgrounds are a wonderful way to bring the community together and showcase how the community values play for people of all ages and abilities. Me2: 7 Principles of Inclusive Playground Design, developed in partnership with PlayCore and Utah's State University's Center for Persons with Disabilities, offers child-centered principles for designing inclusive play environments that move beyond accessibility to address physical and social inclusion.
Designing inclusive play environments is a critical first step to provide the foundation for inclusive play to occur. Teaching or facilitating children about how they can successfully play together can be just as important. Contacting among children with different abilities is often not enough to get children playing together or to create a truly inclusive play experience (Schwartz, Billingsley, McBride, 1998). Research shows that disability awareness intervention has significant and positive effects on children's understanding and attitudes toward people with disabilities (Cooper, 2003). Educators and programmers that use intentional strategies to promote disability awareness provide children with tools to ask questions, get accurate information, explore feelings, and learn how to positively interact with their peers (Wolery, 1994)
Consider the following resources and programming ideas for creating inclusive communities through play:
Create awareness, break down barriers, and foster friendships
Provide playground activities and events that promote character development and create a sense of community among children of all abilities while at play on the playground. 2Play Together: Fostering Friendships Through Inclusive Play, provides inclusive playground activities and tips that promote character development, understanding, and fun between children with and without disabilities. These activities provide ways to create more inclusive communities at school, church, camp, or special events through the magical and intuitive behavior of play!
These playground activities address common character education traits and how to include children with physical, social, sensory, communicative, and cognitive disabilities. Each playground activity includes an introduction, directions for leading the activity, and inclusion tips through various modifications and adaptations to the activity or equipment used. You will know your efforts have been successful when children of all abilities freely play with each other independently and by choice.
Promote disability awareness through a variety of inclusive play events
Celebrate the abilities of all people. Disability awareness activities can include up close and personal sessions with people with disabilities, storytelling or puppet shows, adapted sport demonstrations, or interactive disability simulation activities.