A unique inclusion philosophy
Including people with disabilities in everyday recreational activities and providing them the same opportunities to participate in every aspect of life to the best of their abilities and desires is true inclusion. This requires making sure that adequate considerations are made in the design, execution, and programming of a recreation space. When executed properly, inclusion should lead to increased physical and social participation in play and recreation activities. To ensure the assistance we provide to communities in designing and programming inclusive spaces is relevant, accurate, and modeled on best practice, we work with Dr. Keith Christensen of Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities (CPD).
Together with Dr. Christensen and the CPD, we were able to develop Me2®: The 7 Principles of Inclusive Playground Design®, a unique philosophy to create universally designed playground by specifically tailoring the Seven Principles of Inclusive Design to the play environment, to lay out the steps needed to create a space where everyone, of all abilities, can play side-by-side. These meaningful play environments for people of all ages and abilities address the developmental needs of the whole child by intentionally providing opportunities for physical, cognitive, communicative, social/emotional, and sensory development. As such, inclusive play spaces designed with us utilizing this research are eligible for the National Demonstration Site Award program.
Designing research-based whole environments
Disability is often mistakenly understood as a child’s inability to experience the play environment because of limitations caused by their disability. Rather, disability is the limitation of opportunities to participate in play on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers in the environment. Disability is not a condition a child has, disability is an experience a child may have. When the play environment supports the needs and abilities of the whole child, the child experiences active, independent play. When the play environment is not appropriate to the abilities and needs of the child, the child experiences disability. Apparent exclusion or lack of diversity in play and recreation spaces is doubtfully ever intentional. It is more likely that it comes about through inexperience and unfamiliarity with the knowledge or insight necessary to create a truly effective and meaningful environment. The risk is that, when inclusion is not achieved, society as a whole may not benefit from the addition and rich experiences of those who are most affected and who have a lot to offer. For this reason, utilizing research-based tools to help shape, design, and program the play space is a critical step in designing a meaningful play space that plans for the needs of, and ultimately nurtures the whole child, whole environment, and whole community.
Celebrating inclusion for the whole community
We learned through research that simply building a model environment for inclusive play doesn’t guarantee that children of all abilities will play together in truly meaningful ways. An in-depth review of the literature indicates that social intervention strategies positively impact the inclusion of children with disabilities in play activities with their peers. Educators and programmers that use these intentional strategies to help children learn how to successfully play together equip children with the tools to ask questions, explore their feelings, and have positive interactions with their peers of all abilities. Since outdoor play environments can be important assets to communities in promoting meaningful, healthy play, helping these communities promote character education initiatives in these settings is a powerful tool to further encourage inclusion. Taking our inclusive research to this next level was important to us, to ensure that the research-based inclusive environments we create can be used in meaningful play interactions among people of all abilities. The resulting program guide, 2Play Together®, offers a rich inclusive play program specifically designed to promote inclusive play, understanding, and fun between children with and without disabilities on the playground. Through these activities, children can come to understand and appreciate each other's strengths and differences, and they will feel nurtured, respected, and active, both physically and socially, during play.