All-Inclusive Playgrounds Go Beyond 'Accessible'

Apr 29, 2015

The Arc of Southeast Iowa is in the process of building an inclusive playground in Iowa City. And though federal guidelines instituted in 2014 require newly built playgrounds to be ADA accessible, "accessible" and inclusive can be two very different things. Jorja Ludeking is one of the leaders on the project at the Arc. She says ensuring playgrounds are welcoming and accomodating to people of all abilities is essential.

"We weren't necessarily focused on just individuals in wheelchairs, we weren't focused on just individuals with disabilities. We wanted it to be an inclusive playground for anybody in the community to come and play on. We had to look at a lot of different equipment, different types of play structures to figure out what was going to be best for our community."

The playground is entirely accessible by ramps, has multiple activities that can be used by all children, and specialized playground equipment for children with different abilities, like a wheelchair-accessible teeter totter.

Tony Malkusak has a son, Anthony, that uses services at the Arc. He also is the president of Abundant Playscapes, a company that helps creates inclusive play areas for children and adults. He says he's witnessed his children and neighborhood children use play as development. 

"They always got over their differences because the play itself and the interaction was more important than anything to them. Even in an unstructured way there's learning that's going on as far as play as the epicenter. And then Anthony is starting to get involved with things as well."

Malkusak goes on to say that inclusivity can be intuitive and easy to integrate with strategic thinking.

"Shade in a playground area is important for all of us, but for those individuals that have a difficult time regulating their body temperature, shade is particularly important. For a child that may be experiencing a sensory overload, having a space to go and withdraw in those cozy spaces, it's something that becomes seamless across the board."

Ultimately, Ludeking wants the space to be a place where children of all abilities intersect.

"We want children to be children and to play and to have friends and have that experience of being a kid. And not necessarily always only working with adults, or only working with their parents, or only working with their care provider. We want them to be exposed to kids and be a kid."

On this Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Ludeking and Malkusak. Bri Swope, instructor of inclusive play at the University of Iowa, and Melissa Wehr, Registered Play Therapist, also join the conversation.