For playgrounds to advance beyond inclusion to empowerment, there is a need for increased compatibility between assistive and standard technology and between platforms. Adding seamless connectivity is an essential tool for empowering those with disabilities to fully use their assistive technology to interact with others. Public playgrounds must be made more accessible and easier to use for both people with communicative and cognitive disabilities and those in their networks.
The design rule we employ in this discussion is simple. The empowering technology used are those devices children bring to the playground. The logic is that assistive devices are purposely customized and modified for each user, and it is prohibitively complex to embed services that fit all needs in the environment.
To connect these disparate devices, the technology that is added to the playground is a communication platform. The goal of the platform is to be as device-agnostic as possible. Fortunately, most assistive devices use standard protocols. Thus, providing connectivity with the Internet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth LE is the foundation of this ambient platform.
A second design rule is to maximize play that is unassisted by adults. This criterion builds essential social skills for bridging the ability disparities and builds self-confidence for all players.
How can a kid who is deaf play easily and naturally with other children on the playground?
The challenge is not how does the deaf child communicate. They will come to the playground with several tools such as lip-reading and sign language. The issue is how do the other kids include the deaf child. In this scenario, the service the platform provides is speech-to-text.
How can a kid with significant mobility disabilities play with highly active cohorts?
There are many ways to accomplish this, but since we will assume the children don’t all know each other or have much in common, it is best to use something universal. In this case, let’s use a Pirate Treasure Hunt game.
Small “treasures” are hidden throughout the play area. The non-ambulatory child is the Captain who gives out the first clue. The other players guess where the treasure is and go off to hunt. If they can’t find the treasure, they communicate back to the Captain who has been watching them hunt to get a new hint as to its location. Once the treasure is found, the hunters are given a clue to the next treasure. This can be repeated for as many treasures as desired. The final big treasure can be hidden near the Captain for all to enjoy. This a wonderful game for a birthday party, one of the most popular things families can do at a park.
The bottom line?
Creating a playground platform that provides easy access for interconnectivity between children is has unlimited potential, and connectivity between kids will take on a life of its own as they figure out new ways to play.