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Why Playgrounds Need to be More Inclusive

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We’re so passionate about the fact that a good playground or sensory play area is a key setting for promoting inclusion. That’s why we were sad to see a recent charity report reveal that children with disabilities are often excluded from participating in playground activities with their peers.

The report was conducted by Sense, a national charity that supports people who are deafblind or have sensory impairments and other complex needs, to help them enjoy more independent lives. The ‘Case for Play’ inquiry drew on evidence from specialists and parents of children with multiple needs. The study found that children with multiple needs are missing out on vital formative experiences because of a lack of assistance and understanding. In many parks and schools, the play areas have only been made accessible to able-bodied children, despite government regulations against discrimination.

Combatting Negative Attitudes

The inquiry was chaired by the former Education Secretary Lord Blunkett and it lasted three months. The families of 175 disabled children with multiple needs were questioned about their everyday lives and the inquiry received a further 175 pieces of evidence.

Shockingly, the report found that a key barrier to disabled children accessing mainstream play was negative attitudes from other parents. Parents of disabled children in England and Wales reported that they had often been made to feel excluded from their own communities. Children learn most of their social skills during the early years when they begin to form friendships with their peers. When young children are unable to interact with their peers it can have harmful effects on their emotional, social and physical development.

Another repercussion is that the parents of disabled children are often prevented from taking a break from caring. Lord Blunkett acknowledged these difficulties, saying “We know that play is vitally important for children with multiple needs and their families, bringing a range of developmental and emotional benefits”.

Lack of Funding

As well as negative attitudes surrounding disabled children and their families, it was revealed that insufficient funding at a local level was another significant barrier to disabled children accessing and enjoying play. It was also made apparent that there is currently no strategic approach to funding at a national level either.

A snapshot survey of the families who were interviewed revealed that 9 out of 10 felt their child did not have the same chances to play as other children. Two-thirds of parents complained that they did not have enough information on accessible play opportunities in their area. Shockingly, just over half of the parents said that they’d been turned away from play settings that had failed to meet the necessary requirements under the Equality Act.

When questioned on the government plans to prevent discrimination against children with disabilities in schools, parks and play facilities, a Department of Education spokesman announced that “We have introduced the biggest reforms to the Special Educational Needs and Disability system in a generation, focusing support on individual needs and aspirations”.

A Need to Do Better

Perhaps playgrounds will become more inclusive environments if we address the root of the problem and provide full education and training on discriminatory behaviour in schools. More and more playgrounds and outdoor gyms, including our own, are now introducing wheelchair-friendly equipment and other reforms to encourage inclusivity, but sadly this is not yet a widespread phenomenon. Hopefully it soon will be.