Volume 3 Issue 20 - October 15, 2005

Forging Inclusion on playgrounds, not just classroom

D.N.I.S. News Network - The attainment of the goal of Inclusive Education needs not just policy interventions but also localised and participatory initiatives involving children with disabilities both inside the classrooms and on the playgrounds; a project undertaken by Association for People with Disability (A.P.D.) for a proposed "All-Inclusive Playground" marks a step in this direction.

A group of 22 students from one of the A.P.D. schools, with various disabilities and impairments, were involved in the initiative that was conducted over a month-and-a-half ago. The aim of the exercise was to gather information on the experiences of children with disabilities.

This was done through observing the children while playing and by asking the children to comment on what they liked and disliked about the playground. The children were also asked their opinion on how the park could be improved for children with disabilities.

On entering the play area, the children, all up to sixth grade, were given 30 minutes of free play. The children were allowed to play unhindered, but were assisted when requested. Their class teacher observed the children along with a representative of Parents Support Group.

According to a report emailed to D.N.I.S., following observations were made through the exercise: The children accessed the park via the large gate entrance; the path to the entrance was extremely uneven due to the condition of the concrete, the children with braces and crutches struggled to negotiate the path but were able to manage unassisted, the children in wheelchairs needed assistance from one or two other children in order to negotiate the path, wheelchairs had to be lifted and manoeuvred awkwardly in order to gain access to the park and while moving along the pathways, the children had no difficulty.

When accessing the play area there was a small raised edging which caused difficulty for the children in wheelchairs. These children again needed others to assist them to negotiate the edging. The children enthusiastically made use of all of the equipment in the playground. It was observed that the children in wheelchairs were unable to access the majority of the equipment. There were exceptions though, as two of the children in wheelchairs were able to overcome accessibility issues and play on the slide with some assistance. The equipment most used was the stone slide, the swings and the merry-go-round. The majority of children did not attempt to access the parallel bars, jungle gym and seesaw.

After allowing the children to play, they were brought back together and as a group asked what they liked and disliked about the playground. The children reported that they liked: the merry-go-round, the stone slide, as they were able to climb up fairly well, the swings, the flowers and the plants and being at the park.

The children reported their dislikes to be: swinging, as the wheelchairs were the source of hindrance, climbing was difficult due to braces or weakness in the legs, parallel bars and jungle gym were too high to climb, not being able to access any of the equipment due to being in a wheelchair, the seesaw, as they were not able to sit on it and balance, the slides, as they couldn't climb the steps and the ground was hard to negotiate, as it was muddy and difficult to push the wheelchairs on.

The children were then asked about suggestions for how the park can be improved for children with disabilities. The children's suggestions included: More space around the play area, a ramp at the gate entrance, railing for the steps to the stone slide, wider swings with back support, allocation of ample seating area, lowering the height of the parallel bars and jungle gym, and paths into the play area for wheelchair access.

After observing the children playing the organisers came to the conclusion that the area does not need to be completely changed but needs modifications for greater accessibility.

This includes: A ramp at large gate entrance, entry paths into the play area, railings installed on the steps of the stone slide, an even surface around the play equipment, for example synthetic turf or rubber matting.

Several other accessible equipments could also be added to the area. This could include: swings with back support, a slide with an access ramp in place of steps, lower parallel bars, equipments such as, a free standing knots and crosses game, which consists of large blocks which can be spun around.

About their experiences while holding the initiative, the report said: “It was an awe-inspiring experience for us to see the children manoeuvre the difficulties, despite their disabilities and finding various ways of using the play equipments. Their determination, courage and the sheer joy of playing, in whichever manner possible, warmed our hearts.”

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