Inclusive Play Design

Design to Installation

Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy our parks and open spaces but for too many people this is simply not possible. This good practice guide on developing accessible play space is an important step forward in tackling this unfairness.

Outdoor play has developmental and therapeutic benefits for all children. It is fun, helps to keep children healthy, develops an awareness of risk and danger, and is important for building social, emotional and life skills. In the past there has been little recognition that disabled children are entitled to the same play opportunities as other children. As a result, their interests have not been fully considered when planning and designing public play spaces. The need for guidance was highlighted in the report ‘Living Places; Cleaner, Safer, Greener’. Enabling disabled children to access play spaces helps them and their families build relationships and neighbourhood networks that can bind communities and promote social inclusion. 

(Developing Accessible Play Space
A Good Practice Guide-

Published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister © Crown copyright 2003

Download link to PDF: Developing Accessible Play space )

The good practice guide provides examples of how careful attention to design can help to ensure that play spaces are inclusive, comfortable and appealing to disabled children and their families.

Getting started
Whether you are an individual, group, voluntary or statutory agency working to develop inclusive play space, carrying out a review of facilities and looking for people to involve is an ideal starting point.
The issues to review fall into two broad categories (i) social issues and (ii) technical and physical factors. Reviewing social issues involves thinking about how to create opportunities for disabled and non-disabled children to play together. A focus on technical and physical characteristics involves considering such issues as safety and maintenance, car parking, shelter, and toilets.

The key users of play spaces are children and so the perspectives of disabled children and their non-disabled peers are key to the development of good quality accessible play space. The best way to ascertain what to put in a play space is by working with disabled children to find out what they want.
The first steps towards consultation can be initiated by anyone. It is important to realise that disabled children, young people, and their families can do the consulting as well as be consulted.

Creative thinking is required to maximize consultation with disabled children and their families. Consultation methods that do not take up much hard-pressed family time will be appreciated. The development of ongoing consultation strategies increases the engagement of disabled children and their families. The good practice guide suggests innovative consultation strategies.
Inclusion by design

Envisaging accessible play spaces as places where all children can have the chance to interact and play with each other should be the starting point when thinking through what is involved in creating inclusion by design.

Equipment does not wholly define a play space and developing accessible play space isn’t just about getting the right fixed equipment. How the design of the space enables people to use it in different ways is important. Use of natural resources can greatly enhance the quality of the play experience for disabled children. Equipment plays an important role in play spaces but children also want to do things other than use equipment.

Taking risk is an integral part of play and risk cannot be eliminated from accessible play space for any child, including disabled and vulnerable children. Parents of disabled children frequently say they would rather their children encounter acceptable risk in play than be excluded. A balance has to be found between accepting that all children face a degree of risk in open and inclusive public play spaces and the pressures of the increasingly litigious climate in which we live.

Manufacturers are vigilant about equipment design and installation and pay close attention to compliance with safety standards. Some are producing their own guidance on accessible play space which attempt to deal with the diverse requirements of different bodies (such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, National Playing Fields Association, and the Health and Safety Executive) and examine duties of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – these publications provide a useful point of reference and are signposted in the good practice guide.

Moving forward
The good practice guidance sets out a framework for developing accessible play space which covers
• making connections

• setting a policy context

• establishing responsibility for play

•promoting partnership working

• involving the community

Funding is an important issue and making play spaces accessible does not have to cost the earth. Funding for developing accessible play space will be far easier to come by and can be most effectively used when good connections are made between different groups. The good practice guide gives advice on this by demonstrating how to build up an infrastructure of collaborators and ways to seek guidance on securing funding.

Practical pointers
Practical examples cited in the guide cover existing good practice in consultation with disabled children and their families, partnership working with key groups, utilising community expertise, and developing an inclusive approach to design. Thinking Points and Checklists are suggested to encourage development and discussion.

Examples of how the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) relates to practice are also highlighted.
Contacts and further information is given on

•relevant policy

• how to consult and engage with disabled children and their families

• general issues related to inclusive play

• information on technical, health and safety aspects

• design issues