As you become more aware of the unique challenges faced by many, a challenge that has probably not crossed your mind is the challenge of play. Visit a playground and you will easily be aware of the lack of accessibility to all. Just for starters, a child or an adult in a wheelchair or with a walker cannot manage the gravel or shaving surface let alone use the equipment.
Play is a critical component of a healthy community. The Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics states that, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.” The Journal further reminds us, “Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.”
We build places of play in our communities. We call these public parks and boast that they are free for all. But free does not mean accessible. Now we know better. Now we have the design understanding and equipment to open play to a segment of our community who has been watching from the sidelines. Universal design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.
And yet, the closest fully universal design park is as far away as Denver. It is time to build inclusive play into the fiber of our communities. Inclusive play is not about meeting “special needs”; it is about everyone being able to play, learn and interact together. My grandchildren live in a city with such a park, and it is their favorite place to play. Good Universal Design incorporates a variety of elements that engage a full range of senses and abilities even elements that offer a break from over sensory stimulation, which can be a welcome need associated with autism. And, yet, my grandkids love those quiet nooks as well. I think we forget how very much we are alike.
We have challenges as communities. It is the adaptations we make in our thinking, our attitudes and ultimately our actions that break down the barriers and create the new space of opportunity.
A friend said he often thinks about how 500 or 1,000 years from now when people look back at the space we occupied, he hopes they will see evidence that we were people who really cared about each other. He thinks — and I agree — that a playground designed for everyone will be such evidence.
Debbie Wilde is the Executive Director of local nonprofit Valley Life for All which works to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. Valley Life for All wants to hear your voice. Request a training or join the conversation at http://www.valleylifeforall.org or #voicability4all. Help redefine the perception of challenge.