The importance of play: Part Two: this article presents installment two of a three-part series that features the importance of play for children of all abilities. EP is pleased to partner with the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) in bringing this series to EP's readers.
Let's start with a story: mom and dad won't let you go outside and play with your friends. It's not fair, right? Well, some public playgrounds are built just like that; they are places where not all kids can go out and play with their friends.
Some playgrounds are built with surfacing and structures that can't be used by all children. Others incorporate the required elements for differently-abled children but do it in a way that separates them from their friends, making it difficult for all kids to play in the same way and the same spaces. However, there is a new concept in playground design that is working to change all of that. It's called Universal Design (UD).
Prior to the advent of UD, playground owners were guided--since 1990--by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which outlawed discrimination because of ability. Although complying with ADA standards is a good first step, many playground owners are taking additional steps to make their playgrounds truly inclusive to all. Incorporating the concept of Universal Design (UD) into a playground helps ensure that the space provides all children the opportunity to play together in a barrier-free environment.
The International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) is a non-profit membership association of playground equipment and surfacing companies. IPEMA's primary mission is to provide playground equipment and surfacing with independently tested safety certification to meet American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards for safety. But IPEMA's work to promote play goes far beyond the testing program. IPEMA members are committed to providing safe play spaces for all children, and many have proven that committment by donating time, equipment and surfacing, and expertise to designing play spaces that are beneficial to all children.
Here's a look at some of the most innovative and interesting projects from IPEMA membership companies:
BigToys[R] Inc., (www.bigtoys.com) a global commercial playground equipment manufacturer headquartered in Olympia, WA, worked through their southeast sales staff to build Freedom Playground in Tampa, Florida. Freedom Playground was the vision of Stefani Busansky, an entrepreneurial mother whose daughter Sarah was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Both dreamed of a playground where kids with disabilities could play alongside typicallyabled children. Stefani started a nonprofit called Freedom Playground to raise money for the build, eventually raising nearly a million dollars. Stefani asked the community, specifically local kids, to get involved in the design of the playground by drawing pictures of an ideal playground. She then worked with designers and manufacturers to brainstorm about how those ideas could become reality. She requested BigToys' involvement because their equipment can be configured with all kids in mind. For example, BigToys offers wider ramps and decks so kids in wheelchairs don't have to climb them single-file, but rather can go side-by-side with friends. The equipment's colorscheme is muted and flows naturally into the surrounding landscape, providing a comfortable, soothing atmosphere for kids with sensory disorders.
ForeverLawn[R] Inc. (www.foreverlawn.com) makes synthetic grass surfacing that offers durable, soft playground surfacing with a texture similar to grass. Recently, the company was awarded the contract to install the safety surfacing for two playgrounds at the new Lake Hills Elementary in Lake County, Florida. The school was built to host all the children who are differently-abled in Lake County, and they wanted a playground surface the kids could sit on, play on, fall on, and use their wheelchairs on. ForeverLawn's Playground Grass offered the best solution and the kids have a clean, safe play environment.
BCI Burke Company, LLC (www.bciburke.com) is a manufacturer of commercial playground equipment located in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Last year, Burke joined forces with other community organizations to build the first barrier-free playground at Lakeside Park in Fond du Lac. Burke donated approximately $11,000 in playground equipment to the park, whose goal was to serve the entire community, including children who are differently-abled, those who are typically-abled as well as family members who have a disability. The playground opened last September to the delight of the area's families.
Playworld Systems[R] (www.playworldsystem.com) was contacted through the Army Community Services and the Army's Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). These groups work to provide services to members of the military and their families with special needs. The EFMP determined that a universally-designed playground was needed in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for military families living on base. Playworld Systems worked with Boundless[TM] Playgrounds (www.boundlessplaygrounds. org) to design and build a barrier-free playground that is inclusive to children of all abilities and members of their families--particularly wounded members of the military. Some features of the playground include play deck heights built so every child can reach them, universally designed pathways and surfacing, swings and bouncers with back support, elevated sand tables and activity panels where all children can play, and sensory-rich activities so children can use their imaginations to create new play experiences. Playworld Systems also worked with Boundless Playgrounds to design "All Access Playgrounds" in Massachusetts and Texas.
Sof-Solutions Inc.[TM] (www.sof-solutions. com) is a manufacturer of safety surfacing made of engineered wood fiber, rubber mulch/rubber chip, and unitary products for under and around playground equipment, and splash pads. Sof-Solutions opened for business in 1992, and to celebrate, the company is having a 16-month "Sweet 16" birthday celebration and giving away 16 safety surfaces to parks and playgrounds across the country. Winners include several projects designed to increase accessibility to the park and/or playground. For example, the city of Gross Pointe Farms (the month of May winner) requested a new surfacing for their dog park to replace the old grass surfacing that was too difficult for wheelchairs to navigate across. The Aspen Elementary School (the month of October winner) requested new surfacing for all-access playgrounds to replace the wood chips, which were not certified as a playground surfacing and that would mound together, making wheelchair access treacherous.
Jensen Swing Products Inc. (www.jensenswing.com) donated an accessible swing to the Kids Wish Network, a nonprofit group that grants wishes to kids across the country, kids with life-threatening illness. An 11-year old boy named Thomas from Tennessee wished to have a swing installed in his backyard. Jensen Swings gladly donated the product; now Thomas has his very own, customized, brand-new swing that he can enjoy all the time!
GameTime[R] (www.gametime.com) recently had the honor of providing the custom play space for Give Kids the World Village, a non-profit organization based in Kissimmee, Florida. GameTime and Boundless Playgrounds[TM] designed the playground, which transports children into a life-sized Candy Land game, including a colorful trail that leads through Gumdrop Pass and the Lollipop Forest to the Candy Castle. Hasbro, Inc, Candy Land's manufacturer and a longtime supporter of Give Kids the World, donated the funds for the playground. GameTime also just built a new.
Nature-themed accessible playground at Lake Winnepesaukah, a family owned amusement park in Tennessee that has been in existence since the early 1930s. Tennyson Dickenson said they wanted to add a playground because "kids line up to get in the park, they line up for rides, they line up to play games, and to get food. We want to have somewhere where they can just go and play without a line." The park had an arborist come in and evaluate the old trees in the area; they cut back and removed diseased wood and then GameTime followed and designed a play space to wrap throughout the trees, while still maintaining the required set backs. As a result, the universally designed playground is heavily shaded (a must with hot Southern summers) and feels like a tree-house in every sense of the word!
Fibar[R] Engineered Wood Fiber (www.fibar.com) surfacing has been used as the surfacing of choice for KaBOOM's![R] Gulf Coast Operation Playground project to rebuild playgrounds in New Orleans and Mississippi. On Saturday, June 14, KaBOOM! celebrated their 100th playground built in the area since beginning work in 2005. ABC's Good Morning America was on hand to film the special occasion that has helped serve thousands of children in the hurricane-damaged Gulf area.
These IPEMA membership companies are just a sampling of the great work being done out there--possibly close to your home--to help kids of all abilities benefit from play. We're eager to share more in EP's December issue, along with forecasting upcoming trends in UD for 2009 and beyond!