Author: Austin Stanfel
A neighborhood playground happens to be a public spot where families and children often spend their evenings, turning the place into a thriving community of parents and children. However, not until a decade ago, a major group of parents and children were restricted from these social hubs. This group includes children and parents with disabilities. Quite surprisingly, this group makes up about 19% of the population in the United States.
However, two families ended up changing that and transformed playgrounds forever. The first all- accessible playground, Jonathan’s dream was opened in 1996 by Amy Barzach. To this day, it is considered as a great legacy to follow, and this is exactly what has inspired Tiffany Harris, Scot Williams, and Catherine Curry-Williams to build a non-profit Shane’s Inspiration in 1998, in Los Angeles. This resulted in a playground that is the first of its kind and is fully accessible.
Diane Scanlan, who happens to be the VP of Design at Shane’s Inspiration, has developed 50+ award-winning playground designs since the time he has joined this organization.
While there are many known benefits of playing outdoors in an inclusive environment, it was a challenge for Shane’s Inspiration to persuade communities to build these fully accessible playgrounds when it first started. However, it was made possible with great persistence and by targeting one particular community at a time. After a single playground was opened in a community, many people who previously showed resistance started showing up along with their children to the park.
As a result of this, it seemed like people have developed a better understanding of the importance of inclusive play for children with disabilities. Moreover, many people, who actually noticed that a resistance was primarily taking away the rights of playing from the disabled children, chose to become activities for this cause.
Since there was an increase in the demand for playgrounds, designers were somewhat forced to be more creative. In a way, the increase in demand encouraged more creativity. So in short, playgrounds are not about simple swings anymore. Rather, they are an all-inclusive environment that carries multi-sensory experiences for the development of a thematic world.
Shane’s inspiration had another shift in the designs, and more and more parents of children with autism and other sensory disorders became interested. As a result of this, in early 2006, a considerable amount of focus was shifted to children with autism/sensory disorders and their playing needs. This resulted in the formation of sensory walls that were highly engaging for these children. It was quite a challenge to bring sensory experiences to the playground.
Over the last 20 years, 70 inclusive playgrounds have been developed while 50 more playgrounds are currently in development throughout the world. No one knew that this would actually take the shape of a great movement. At the same time, the design industry has undergone several reforms and developed. However, children with disabilities still give force to this inclusive movement.