Accessible playgrounds are an important part of education
Can places like "Bennett's Village" become widely available?
Although this post has a local origin, something I generally avoid for SpecialEducationToday.com, it raises an issue that is international in scope: Will people around the world help advance the accessibility of children's play areas?
My launching point for this post was "Bennett's Village treehouse will be a place of fun for all," Bryan McKenzie's (2021) article in the Charlottesville Daily Progress. Bennett's Village represents a memorial reach by the parents of a child with disabilities who wanted to have places to play with other kids. They have provided initial funding to create a happy place.
Bennett, who died at age five, is being remembered by his parents and others for his aspirations to play with other kids. Bennett had spinal muscular atrophy, a rare genetic disease that interrupts nerve communication with muscles and results in weakness and wasting in muscles. Kids with this disease can be a dumb as a 100 head of Robins or as smart and a 100-member pod of dolphins. That’s not the point and neither is his disease the point. The point: He wanted to play with other kids.
If you're a preschooler, wouldn't you want to play with other kids? If you want to play with other kids, wouldn't you want to have places that facilitated your opportunities to play with them? As InclusiveSA (2021) argued, "play is an essential part of childen's development." So, where can you go to have opportunities to play?
Well, few parks and school playgrounds are accessible to individuals with disabilities (Perry et al., 2018; Yantzi et al, 2010). Think not just about Bennett whose movement was impaired, but also about children with visual impairments, hearing impairments, amd individuals with severe disabilities. But also think abot kids with emotional and behavioral disorder. Ripat and Becker (2012) reported that their small sample of interviewees had opinions that led clearly to advocacy for more accessibility.
Indeed, in other surveys of educators (Stanton-Chapman & Schmidt,, 2016) and caregivers (Stanton-Chapman & Schmidt, 2017), it is clear that adults associated with children with disabilities find playgrounds inaccessible. Adults said that their kids could not participate in play!
There are a lot more arguments that one could mount. Do more accessible playgrounds attract more kids with disabilities? Do kids with disabilities engage in play more on accessible playgrounds? There are studies on these questions, but I suspect readers know the overall results.
The task is advocacy here. To be sure, we need to know precisely what what deserves advocacy. Certain types of swings? Adaptive seesaws? But, the big question is how do we help ensure that current and future plans for playspaces include accessibility as a criterion. Answer: Organize. Lobby. Vote. Make a stink! Act locally.
Special educators reported that they "dreamed of a fully inclusive playground" (Stanton-Chapman & Schmidt, 2016). We advocates need to help children like Bennett routinely have opportunities to play.
Learn about spinal muscular atrophy from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Spinal-Muscular-Atrophy-Fact-Sheet or the Cleveland Clinic https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14505-spinal-muscular-atrophy-sma
InclusiveSA. (2021). Play is an essential part of our children’s development and wellbeing. Web site. https://inclusive.sa.gov.au/resources/templates/inclusive-play Retrieved 7 September 2021. Maurer, D. (2021).
Maurer, D. Local news. https://dailyprogress.com/news/local/bennetts-village-treehouse-will-be-a-place-of-fun-for-all/article_cc470c2a-0d10-11ec-ba6f-93115d485713.html
Perry, M. A., Devan, H., Fitzgerald, H., Han, K., Liu, L. T., & Rouse, J. (2018). Accessibility and usability of parks and playgrounds. Disability and Health Journal, 11(2), 221-229.
Playgrond Accessibility. https://www.accessibleplayground.net/?doing_wp_cron=1631067912.7133920192718505859375
Playground Advocacy. https://playgroundsafety.org/topics/topic/ada-and-playground-accessibility
Ripat, J., & Becker, P. (2012). Playground usability: What do playground users say?. Occupational Therapy International, 19(3), 144-153. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/oti.1331
Stanton-Chapman, T. L., & Schmidt, E. L. (2016). Special education professionals’ perceptions toward accessible playgrounds. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41(2), 90-100. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1540796916638499
Stanton‐Chapman, T. L., & Schmidt, E. L. (2017). Caregiver perceptions of inclusive playgrounds targeting toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities: has recent international and national policy improved overall satisfaction?. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 17(4), 237-246.
Yantzi, N. M., Young, N. L., & Mckeever, P. (2010). The suitability of school playgrounds for physically disabled children. Children's Geographies, 8(1), 65-78.