Updated: Mar 9, 2020
Playgrounds are a place for children to have fun and enjoy just being a kid. However, for children with special needs, this can be challenging. Disorders such as deafness and blindness can greatly affect a child’s quality of life by limiting their ability to interact with other children, especially on a playground. In honor of Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week (June 24-30), we would like to review some things to consider when designing a playground for children who are deaf and/or blind or who have multiple disabilities. There are a number of considerations in designing a playground for children who are blind, deaf or visually impaired.
The degree of hearing loss varies greatly from person to person. Approximately 15% of children have some sort of low or high frequency hearing loss. www.cdc.gov Children and adults with auditory disabilities need special considerations when designing a playground that is accessible, safe, and enjoyable.
Visual, Tactile and Sensory Elements
Including lots of visual, tactile and sensory elements in your playground is beneficial to a child with an auditory disability. The use of bright, but not overstimulating, colors throughout a playground and using colors and symbols to signify meaning and place help the child understand different areas in the playground in other ways besides hearing. Frequent, large signs using both words and pictures can help a child with an auditory disability understand more about the playground. Multi-sensory features that incorporate sound such as wind-chimes, a musical sidewalk, large xylophone, bells, etc. can be a fun experience for a child who is only partially deaf. A sensory garden can be another great addition by adding plantings with interesting smells (lavender, mint, roses). Water features are another fun way to explore their senses with touch and makes a great social area for children of all abilities to gather, socialize and play together on the same level.
Cochlear Implant Dangers
Occasionally, plastic slides and equipment cause static interference for children with cochlear implants. Static isn’t harmful but can give a shock to the child or make the implant temporarily ineffective. An audiologist can reboot the hearing device. Researchers are trying to develop plastic equipment for playspaces that won’t interfere with cochlear implants (read more here). In the meantime, installing metal slides that do not cause static electricity can be a great option for children with Cochlear Implants to use without having the worry of shock or having to take out their implants.
Visual impairments are generally divided into two categories: blindness and low vision. Low vision is un-correctable vision loss that interferes with daily activities. In other words, low vision is “not enough vision to do whatever it is you need to do”. Legal Blindness is a visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better-seeing eye with best conventional correction (meaning with regular glasses or contact lenses). Total Blindness is the complete lack of light perception and form perception. Few people today are totally without sight. In fact, 85% of all individuals with eye disorders have some remaining sight; approximately 15% are totally blind. www.visionaware.org There are many ways to make a playground safe and enjoyable for children with a visual disability.
Textured Surfacing and Safety
Adding rubberized surfacing to a playground can help a child with a visual impairment differentiate where a playground begins and ends. The texture of the rubberized surfacing is very different from the cement sidewalk and grassy field that surrounds it. The surfacing can help orient themselves as they approach or exit the playground. The soft surface also minimizes the chance of injury. Another way to help a child indicate their location on the playground is with rubberized mats with bumps.
Children with low vision (not total blindness) can use the aid of marking the edge of steps, a slide, or other surfaces (platforms, etc.) with yellow to make them aware of the change in surfaces. Picking vivid shades of yellow, blue and red for the play structure and picking more muted colors for the surfacing around it can give sharper color distinctions that allow children with limited vision to locate and use the play structure more independently. Posting frequent, easy-to-locate signs in braille, large print and contrasting colors helps a visually impaired child locate where they are on a playground. Adding an inclusive swing provides a safety harness for children in need of extra security and support while swinging on a swing set with their friends.
Enclosing the entire playground with safety fencing keeps a child with visual disabilities safe and secure. A fence allows the child to feel the edge of the playground and can more easily grasp where they are in the playground by touching it.
Auditory and Tactile Elements
Musical play equipment is a great idea for a playground for children with visual disabilities. Adding instruments to a playground can add another sensory element of play. Instruments can be strategically located between a play structure and swing set to make a perfect audible landmark for students to use when orienting themselves or traveling from one play area to the next. Recordings on play equipment can help guide a child thru the playground as well.
Large objects, blocks and manipulatives help provide tactile stimulation for a visually impaired child which is key to their development. Sand and water play can be a place a child with a disability can feel welcome with other children and can stimulate them in different ways.
Playgrounds for Deaf/Blind Children Paving the Way
Adam’s Adventure is an inclusive playground that was inspired by Adam Mlodzinski who at 7 years old contracted a disease that left him completely blind with cognitive impairments and a seizure disorder. Adam’s Adventure is designed to accommodate not only Mobility Impairments, but also Auditory Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Cognitive Impairments, Visual Disabilities and more. Through fundraising efforts, the playground was built so there could be a place where children of all abilities can play freely! It is a place where there are no limitations and where there is something for everyone. Whether they wish to swing, to climb, to play music, or just need a quiet place to rest, the children will find it there.
Want to find an accessible playground in your neighborhood? Check out this link to find a playground near you. www.playgroundsforeveryone.com