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Inclusivity for all…

At Sutcliffe Play, we know that exciting, challenging play from an early age can boost children’s physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing, and set them up for future success.

With every project, we’re determined to deliver these benefits to every child – whatever their age, gender, whether or not they have a disability, and whatever the nature of that disability happens to be. This means designing our equipment and play spaces innovatively, with inclusion at their heart, but integrating this in an invisible way to deliver the broadest possible appeal to all.

We have almost 35 years of hard-earned experience of delivering on this vision.

Our passionate cause…

We have high respect for the fact that the simple act of play carries a multitude of benefits for all children.

It isn’t just fun (although it is very fun!), it also encourages creativity, exploration, social interaction, confidence building, and risk taking. It is widely recognised that play aids children’s emotional, physical, and cognitive development – and this sentiment is endorsed by Article 31 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child has a right to leisure and play.

Unfortunately, whether it’s poor physical accessibility, sensory overload, or insufficiently inclusive equipment, too many children in the past have been robbed of the chance to reap these rewards because of a disability. The challenges disabled people face within society are, sadly, no secret (Scope found that 72% report having experienced negative attitudes or behaviour in the last 5 years), but as one of the UK’s leading play providers, any child being unable to access the play opportunities they deserve is intolerable to us, which is why we’re so passionate about making such an occurence a thing of the past.

Our thinking on this issue…

We are informed by the ‘social model of disability’; developed from the expertise and lived experiences of disabled people, it makes clear that societal barriers, such as a lack of access or negative attitudes, are the real problem, rather than any impairment. Inspired by this, we strive to incorporate inclusivity into a huge swathe of our products and spaces, through innovative, thoughtful equipment and play area design. We are strongly motivated by the sheer number of children affected by the current state of affairs – in the UK, there are an estimated 16,000,000 disabled people, and 11% of children have a disability.

But helping these children enjoy a fulfilling play experience isn’t an end in itself for us – we don’t simply want to see disabled children playing alone in our play spaces. A shared experience is an enhanced one, which is why our spaces and equipment are specifically designed to encourage children, whatever their ability, to play side by side. This encourages those without disabilities to reconsider any assumptions they may have about what disabled people can achieve, and helps disabled children to feel a part of the society they live in. Not bad for a trip to the playground!

How we achieve Inclusivity….

But how exactly do we guarantee this level of inclusivity in our work? It begins by understand the most prevalent conditions that affect disabled children, identifying how they may present a barrier, and working towards innovative solutions:

Physical conditions

estimated to affect roughly 25% of disabled children, impact mobility, dexterity, strength, co-ordination, stamina, breathing or balance, and can limit children’s physical access to play spaces. Thoughtfully designed equipment can address this, for instance with drag ramps, wider decks or nets, and can provide a suitable level of challenge and healthy element of risk. Our Inclusive Wheelchair Roundabouts are an excellent example of this, as their in-ground installation and open design allows them to accept a wheelchair and enable both children and carers to experience the spinning motion together.

Sensory conditions

estimated to affect roughly 10% of disabled children, can include deafness, tinnitus, blindness, peripheral vision loss, and vestibular conditions. These can inhibit children’s enjoyment of more traditional, slide and swing playgrounds, and they’re best addressed with sensory rich equipment such as those with visual, auditory, tactile, or proprioceptive (self-movement and force) elements. Our circular water tables and sand trays, with their obvious multi-sensory capabilities, are ideally placed to fulfil these requirements.

Cognitive conditions

such as those affecting memory, learning, mental health and speech, are estimated to affect a massive 66% of disabled children. They can impinge upon a child’s enjoyment of play by disrupting their perception of their experiences, and thereby limiting the emotional benefits they may derive from them. These conditions are best addressed by helping children problem solve, and develop abstract thinking skills, with items such as our ever-popular Sound Flower - a spinning play panel with a front-facing spiral which creates an optical illusion as it rotates, and internal ball bearings for an added auditory effect.

Neurological conditions

such as epilepsy, neural damage or cerebrovascular disease, can have a big impact on disabled children’s play experiences, and impact the intuitive learning they would otherwise enjoy. Environments that address this should include elements which encourage a range of gross (large muscle use) and fine (small muscle use) movements, and support those with varied mobility, motor control and posture. Our Denzel the Dragon Springie fulfils this function with a specially designed open front, which allows a child to get on or off by themselves and enjoy the thrill of a springing sensation.

Social/emotional conditions

such as those which affect social behaviour, interaction, self-awareness and emotional intelligence, can disrupt the interpersonal development that play inspires. Luckily, this can be combatted with fully inclusive equipment and spaces which allow all children to be socially included, utilise their imaginations, and overcome social anxiety. Our Inclusive Group Seesaw is a fantastic addition in this regard, having been designed to accommodate 6 or more users, immediately encouraging the precious social interaction element, and allowing for parents or carers to help support disabled users. With 3 colourful design panel variations, it also offers opportunities for engaging imaginative play.

Success

The success of any inclusive playground is impossible to predict, but prior to commencing our design process, one of the main tools at our disposal is local consultation. This involves engaging with the community, often through public events, and seeking the views of disabled groups or nearby SEN schools to identify specific requirements. This would also typically involve gathering views on the difficulties that users have had when accessing other local playgrounds and considering innovative ways to address these in our own design.

How we design…

As we begin our design process, we pay as much attention to the accessibility of the site as to the inclusivity of the equipment placed within it. This can include factors such as:

Location

The location of the playground and assessing whether it offers sufficient access by mapping the route and distance from the nearest parking, and paying attention to the surfaces, as well as the width and position of any gates.

Expected

The expected circulation within the play space, the solidity of its surfacing, and its accessibility to and around inclusive equipment for accompanied children or those in wheelchairs.

Features

Natural features/landscaping, such as changes in height, quiet zones, natural shade and parent/carer seating (as they may also have a disability).

Having taken these considerations into account, and garnered up-to-date, relevant community feedback, we can then finalise a design which includes an excellent balance of inclusive elements and traditional play favourites, enabling the finished space to offer the broadest possible appeal to disabled and non-disabled children alike.

This unifying ‘side-by-side’ philosophy is evident across a huge range of our equipment, such as many of our complex multi-play units, which combine inclusive features, such as wheelchair ramps, drag ramps, or colour contrasting climbing nodules for visually impaired children, with more challenging elements which will test non-disabled children. In this way, the chances are increased that both groups will become more familiar with each other through play, fostering compassion, empathy and understanding.

The placement of the equipment can also be every bit as impactful as individual play features in this regard. For instance, by placing items of similar play types adjacent to each other, such as two pieces of rocking equipment, one that is inclusive and one that requires the child to provide their own balance and support, the chances of social interaction, integration and cohesion between the two users are massively increased, again providing the communal play experience we are so passionate about delivering.

These are just some of the ways we seek to bring our vision – of play without limits for every child – to life, and as with every element of our work, we are constantly refining our methods. With creativity, innovation and conviction, we’re committed to permanently transforming the state of play for disabled children, helping them not only to enjoy a fantastic experience every time they visit their local playground, but also to reap the same lifelong benefits as their peers.

Facts & Figures Glossary:

Scope = Equality for Disabled People

House Of Commons Library:UK Disability Statistics

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