An innovative inclusive playground encourages children with diverse abilities to enjoy sharing the same play space, writes Deborah Gundle.

A key aspect of the new playground is the use of comprehensive non-verbal picture symbol communication boards, which transform the play experience for children with diverse abilities by providing a non-verbal language which is easy for everyone to use. The boards greatly facilitate the engagement of non-verbal children with other non-verbal or verbal children.

■ Fair Play playground from a bird’s eye view.

There are five boards placed strategically around the playground at varying heights. The communication boards enable non-verbal children to point and identify each piece of equipment, communicate what they want to play on, how they are feeling, what they want to do, whose turn it is, and whether they need help or a rest. The boards are not only there for non-verbal people to communicate with others and express themselves, they also allow playground users who don’t know each other to communicate.

The presence of the communications boards creates a profound change in all children’s behaviours as they engage with each other. The communications board serves as a bridge, facilitating interactions among children of differing abilities. The use of picture symbols encourages cooperative play, fostering a sense of understanding and camaraderie among diverse groups. These boards herald a new era of inclusivity and empowerment for children with special needs.

■ Two children using the communications board.

We hope that these groundbreaking boards are the forerunners to communications boards being placed in lots of different public spaces such as shopping centres and airports, and can even be used to help people who don’t speak the same language, as this goes beyond disability.

The physical, mental and social benefits the boards offer underscore the transformative impact of well thought out design, setting the stage for a future where inclusion is natural and we don’t have to think about inclusion as a special objective we need to achieve, in the way we do now.

Barnet’s model playground design caters to a range of physical abilities, promoting development of motor skills and overall physical well-being. Inclusive swings, ramps, rockers, spinners, springers and sensory sound and touch panels provide opportunities for children with differing abilities to participate actively, fostering strength, coordination and balance. The playground is a place which supports mental wellbeing, reduces isolation by providing somewhere to go which is free, and where other people will also be enjoying themselves thanks to accessible equipment which everyone can use. Every weekend we have to think of what we are going to do and where we are going to go; with the new Fair Play playground, we now have a safe place where we can be with other people, our children can all have a good time, and there’s no cost.

■ A wheelchair and non-wheelchair user using the accessible see-saw.

Local residents with disabilities, parents, carers and accessibility experts were involved in shaping the project from the outset. Solid safety surfacing across the whole play area ensures it is wheelchair accessible, and the picnic area allows wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users to sit together. There’s a textured path surface to support navigation by visually impaired users, and there’s only one entrance and exit, ensuring users won’t leave without their carer’s knowledge.

Deborah Gundle
Author: Deborah Gundle

Deborah Gundle
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Deborah Gundle is co-founder, with Nathalie Esfandi, of Fair Play, in partnership with Barnet Council. Fair Play is an initiative for inclusive public spaces. Deborah’s son Zach has severe learning disabilities.

Fair Play Barnet is at Victoria Recreation Ground, Park Road, East Barnet EN4 9BS


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