According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one in seven children living in the United States has a disability.
Nearly 60 percent of parents surveyed believe that playgrounds should be required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to include wheelchair accessibility, play features for motor coordination disorders, quiet spaces for sensory disorders and auditory features for visual or hearing impaired. But the ADA only addresses wheelchair access.
That is why it is important for local communities to take action to increase accessibility for our youth.
Luckily, Atchison has done that. An inclusive playground was recently completed at Jackson Park.
It is more than an asset for Atchison to have an inclusive playground — it is a blessing.
Inclusive playgrounds are designed to allow access to as many children as possible. To be inclusive is to be easy to use, intuitive, with tolerance for error and able to be enjoyed by children of varying physical abilities.
The idea is that all kids are not the same, but all are created equal — or at least should have equal access to public play space. Inclusive playgrounds are designed to engage children of all abilities, including those with developmental disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, Down syndrome and sensory disorders.
So, you might see entry points lower to the ground than traditional playground equipment. You might see wider access, with broader common areas. The equipment itself will be more pleasing to the touch. The colors are strategically thought out. The idea is to engage all of a child’s senses, in a temperate way for those with disabilities that might be sensory related.
The best part about inclusive playgrounds is that they aren’t solely for children with special needs. The hope is that all children will participate.
Nearly 75 percent of parents believe it is important that their children have an opportunity to play with a variety of other children, including those with disabilities. An inclusive playground is one place this can happen.
Statistics aside, sometimes it’s important just to do the right thing. Providing access to playground equipment for all members of our community is the right thing to do.
Children benefit from exploring four defined areas of developmental skills when playing. These are sensory, motor, cognitive and social/emotional.
Those with disabilities need to further define those skills. Some require stronger levels of sensory input, some do better with weaker levels. Others prefer sensory input on a frequent basis, some not so much. The sensory input can be visual, auditory, using muscles (motor), engaging touch and engaging body movement.
Fine motor skills (engaging hands and fingers, agility, balance, coordination, cardiovascular benefits, endurance, strength – the benefits of play are of tremendous value in personal development. That’s not even counting the language, problem solving and strategic planning skills that can be gained working with others or through certain functions on a playground.
Social and emotional skills are also developed in a playground environment.
Inclusive playgrounds can provide a variety of developmental options for children to choose from. Most important, they lower the barrier for entry and participation. This is great thing for our children. This is a great thing for Atchison.
We should be proud of breaking down this barrier and creating an access point for what can often be an underserved segment of our community.
– Joe Warren
Joe Warren, a former Atchison Globe publisher and editor, serves as City of Atchison director of administrative services. He can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 913-367-5500.