Inclusive Play Beyond Ramps

Stephen Hawking – Zero G

Since 1990 and the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landscape of America has changed radically. When the law was adopted, it received a lot of pushback because of the great expense for what many perceived as a benefit for a few.

Today, all of us take advantage of the many design features introduced by the act. From the parent with a stroller, a child using their first scooter, to the delivery driver hauling a loaded dolly from the truck and through an automatic door, we all use these features at one time or another.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the ADA Accessibility Guidelines were issued. While progress in implementing these rules has been slow, today, most play spaces are accessible.

Over the last ten years, several programs have pioneered a broader vision for playgrounds by championing inclusivity, i.e., while getting there is great, being part of the play is so much better.

In my experience, the goal of inclusivity is ideally embodied on Magical Bridge Foundation’s playgrounds. I have been lauding their efforts since 2015 in this blog. Currently, there are two sites in operation and four more that will open this year.

Now that we know how to go beyond access to inclusivity, what’s next?

Empowerment

A person has two ways to accommodate a disability. They can modify their environment or themselves. The ADA has made strides in modifying the environment. What about personal adaptations?

Like astronauts, disability advocates are pioneers in testing new technology. We see this all the time in people like Paralympians, Stephen Hawking, and Michael J. Fox. While these are very public examples, millions adapt to their disability by adopting technology.

When we look at emerging technology from robotics to speech recognition, you will find these being used as assistive systems. Not only are these systems developed in concert with the disabled, but they also are first adopters that provide the scale needed to help make these advances mainstream.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in digital technology. For many, entering the virtual world is liberation for, as Peter Steiner said in his New Yorker Cartoon, “Nobody knows you’re a dog.”

The use of digital technology is a great equalizer. It also has been largely ignored by playground designers. Magical Bridge is a pioneer in this area. The Dutch company, Yalp, has also been forward-thinking. There have been several major art exhibits that explore this subject as well.

Such efforts tend to be limited to providing a specific experience in a person-to-machine fashion (P2M). To achieve the dream of fully inclusive playgrounds, we need to explore how to use digital technology to create person-to-person (P2P) connectivity.

Over the next few days, we will explore the following technologies and provide examples of how they can transform playgrounds. As we will see, each of these has great potential, but when combined, the synergistic impact is transformative and scalable.

  • Connectivity
  • Gamification
  • Security Systems
  • Virtual Reality
  • Augmented Reality
  • Robotics

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