No other activity in children's lives provides as much richness and experience as free play. During free play children develop their skills, attitudes, and relationships, and learn to develop and integrate their bodies, minds, and emotions. They explore their own potential without the risk of failure or ridicule. They can imagine they are someone else, try something new, fall down and get up, try and try again. Free play on a playground is serious business for children. The typical playground, however, may often be a place of failure for a child with a disability.
A great deal of energy has been expended improving playground accessibility by providing great physical access. But the removal of physical barriers (accessibility) doesn't always mean the removal of social barriers (inclusion). Because play is a social, as well as a cognitive and physical experience, accessibility must be accompanied by full social access. The ideal playground environment enables all children to use their individual strengths and abilities to engage in play independently and equally with their friends, siblings, and neighbors.
Initially, Beyond Access was a project through the U.S. Administration on Developmental Disabilities; Project of National Significance 2001-2004,
The Beyond Access project emphasizes the inclusion of children with disabilities in public play environments. Inclusion in a play environment includes the removal of social barriers to participation and is achieved by thoughtfully considering the needs of the child and how they achieve independence and equality.
The Beyond Access program provides technical assistance and information to help playground designers increase their understanding of the needs of children with disabilities, as well as their knowledge and skills to create better playgrounds for children with disabilities.
Through the Beyond Access website at http://www.beyondaccess.org , individuals programs and communities can learn about the diverse play needs of children with disabilities and how to meet those needs. The website offers online tutorials on Inclusive Outdoor Learning Environment, Socially Inclusive Designs, and the Design Process. A free copy of the Beyond Access booklet 'High Expectations: Playgrounds for Children of ALL Abilities' is also available through the website.
This information and tutorials can empower parents and advocates to take an active role in ensuring that community playgrounds and designed to meet the needs of ALL children.