Equipment like the Roller Table can help children develop their upper body muscles. (photo by Deborah Rubin Fields)
Not all playground equipment is created equal. Some equipment is accessible while some is not. Certain equipment is accessible to young wheelchair users, yet cannot be labeled inclusive play apparatus. However, some playground items are both accessible and inclusive and, notably, provide wheelchair-bound children with opportunities for either muscle toning and/or creative play.
Landscape Structures has designed a number of accessible and inclusive pieces of playground equipment. Take, for example, the new ZipKrooz. This is a scaled-down version of the popular adult zip line. The young passenger sits in a hard, high-back seat, secured with a harness. For safety, the chair runs fairly close to the ground. Gravity propels the child across the line. Close to the end of the line, the chair rocks back toward the centre before coming to a stop. The launching action is repeated, as many times as desired. A child using a wheelchair might need help from a grown escort to assist with the transfer to and from the wheelchair to the zip seat, to position the child at the beginning of the line, and to gently push the back of the chair to launch the occupant.
The Play Booster Sway Fun Glider is a roomy, communal “landed” boat that artificially creates wave motion. The “sailors” can either rock the boat from their seated positions or assistants can stand outside the bow or stern, swaying the boat. Wheelchair access is provided via a pull-down ramp. Sitting around a bolted-down table, two wheelchair-using youngsters may join in imagery play with other passengers. Wheelchairs are apparently not locked down; instead, wheelchair users either stabilize themselves with their chair’s brakes and with the table’s hand holds or have their attendants sit behind them, holding the chair’s back hand grips.
The next three play lot items not only promote inclusion and accessibility, but also muscle strengthening. The Accessible Stationary Cycler, the Accessible Power Lifter chinning bar and the Roller Table, for example, help children develop the muscles in their upper body – in their arms, upper back, neck and/or chest. Each apparatus is built low enough so that children using wheelchair mobility (and who have use of their arms and hands) can either reach up to raise themselves out of their chairs or sit in their chairs to comfortably play.
The following two pieces of equipment provide for inclusion and accessibility while focusing on creative enterprise.
Landscape Structures manufactures what it calls an Elevated Sand Table. This raised sandbox allows juvenile wheelchair users (who have use of their arms and hands) to build sandcastles from their chairs. From a standing position, children without physical disabilities play alongside.
The Chimes Reach Panel lets wheelchair users and non-physically challenged children to literally play harmoniously. They may make music together by ringing a row of chimes.
On the other side of the accessibility spectrum (and geographically on the other side of the world), there is the Australian-made Liberty Swing. With its design to accommodate most wheelchairs, this swing is apparently a big hit in Australia, yet this equipment sometimes stands off to the side of the other playground equipment, fenced off and under lock and key.
Admittedly, vandalism and theft are problems playground officials face worldwide. But this reality means that while the swing is accessible to children who use wheelchair mobility, it is not necessarily mainstream integrated.
Play is necessary for a child’s physical and mental development. In the Western world, playing with one’s peers, regardless of one’s physical or mental ability, has been deemed a child’s right. Overall, the surveyed play items show significant progress has been made in fulfilling this objective. Physical and occupational therapists who work with children would do well to encourage their young clients and their families to make use of such equipment, and to try and make playgrounds everywhere as accessible and inclusive as possible.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic (take-a-peek-inside.com).