Yesterday I was very fortunate to be able to attend a conference held at SUNY Cortland about inclusive play. My colleague and I heard from speakers about building accessible playgrounds which meet the needs of people with disabilities as well as those without, and the importance of having two groups of people with really very different needs be able to play- not just side-by-side, but actually together.
The first speakers were from an organization called Shane’s Inspiration, and I think I’m in love with their mission and their vision:
“Our vision is to foster a bias-free world for children with disabilities. Our mission is to create inclusive playgrounds and programs that unite children of all abilities.” (taken from their website)
They don’t just create the playgrounds, they offer programs with schools so that kids without disabilities can be paired up with kids who are different from them, kids who may play very differently than they play. There is a whole curriculum around inclusive play that can be used by schools, daycare programs, even summer camps. Why? Because every facility out there should have a way for inclusive play to happen. Because sometimes we need help with the “how” of it all.
In speaking with one of the presenters later, she said “I hope that one day I’ll be out of a job”. One day, kids may not need special programs to help them buddy up with kids with disabilities in order that they may learn that there are more similarities than differences, and to not be afraid of those differences.
Okay, so I also maybe geeked out a little (a LOT) when I met the Yogibo lady (a.k.a. my new BFF Amber).
If we’ve met, I’ve probably told you about Yogibo .
I My children have two of the stuffed animals at our house, and the Autism Lending Library that I run has a couple. I’d love to fill the room with their products, and yesterday I met the manager for one of their local-ish stores. I gave her the library’s flyer (which shows our sensory room) and my card, and invited her and her team to visit the library and learn more about what we do.
We then were invited to tour the SIMS Lab (Sensory Integration/Motor Sensory). I immediately began concocting ways that we can have something like this in our community, and thought of the Occupational Therapy Department at one of our universities. As the boys are attending a group there once a week, you can bet your bippy I’ll be asking if they’ve considered setting up a similar facility.
One of the first things that struck me was that when kids come to the Lab, they get to select their preferred lighting. Lighting makes a big difference for many of us with extra sensory needs, and that impressed me. The place was full of gym mats and Yogibo beanbags, a zip line that leads to a suspended ball pit (!!) and all manner of things to climb, things to toss, things to land onto. I mean, come ON. How cool is that? Being able to access a place like this and get all the sensory input one needs in order to be able to better self-regulate is so important, and this Lab is providing that for kids.
I also met a woman who is working on the changes to a local (and very NOT inclusive, currently) playground. There is this presumption sometimes that the way to make things inclusive is to simply stick a ramp on things. Um, no. There is so much more than that. You must consider the gamut of disabilities, and which types of equipment might provide something that may be needed by someone with those disabilities. We talked at length about what they might provide to assist kids for whom the wide open space and the very large concept of PLAY might be disregulating. They hadn’t thought of that, and I hope we’ll be talking more as they continue to develop their designs.
So here’s my homework for you: go to a local park with a playground. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone with a disability- that can be anything from being blind to being in a wheelchair, being hypersensitive to being hyposensitive, having trouble navigating even the seemingly smallest hurdle to having trouble navigating a social situation such as the playground. Look at it through these lenses, and see what could be different. And then work with the community to create change.
I would like to thank SUNY Cortland for offering families and professionals an opportunity to come together to learn about inclusive play, adaptive physical education, the use of technology, and music therapy programming.