Monday, December 7, 2015

Loose Parks and Special Needs

“Did you know that people with disabilities are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. and one you can be a member of at any time?
According to the latest U.S. census, an estimated 48.9 million people, or 1 in 5 Americans have a disability.

We’ve come to recognize the wheelchair in a blue box to symbolize a person with a handicap. As a result, we often think and talk about this group as the disabled population. In reality, 70% of those living with a disability are not using a wheelchair. This large group of Americans shows no outward signs of a disability affecting their lives.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 to improve entry into public spaces and job opportunities. While valiant in its intent, ADA focused on a very narrow set of physical disabilities—most notably, access for wheelchairs—without considering the needs of millions of others.

Think about those living with autism, visual limitations, sensory issues, undiagnosed cognitive impairments, the elderly, and the medically compromised. This subset of our population continues to be painfully ignored, and it’s time ADA met their needs too.

How would you define disability?

Something that limits you due to x, y or z.  Everyone has a disability of some sort.  No one's perfect.  Everyone has a flaw of some type.  In terms of ADA, we should all be treated the same, because we are all disabled. 
 -Christopher Noel, NYC Parks ADA Accessibility Coordinator


For parks, The ADA only guarantees physically accessibility for the disabled,  it does not guarantee that a special needs person will
-have anything to do in that park
-be included in activities in the park.

The concept of  inclusive playgrounds goes beyond the ADA  but  does nor guarantee inclusion either...

Shanes Inspiration
But when their playground opened, "we were shocked by the minimal use by kids with disabilities," she said. Instead, they won lots of awards for being a fantastic place to play, and the place was overrun by typically developing children. When they went into the community to find out why, they discovered many families with children with disabilities didn't come because they worried about ridicule if their children were the only ones there who were different.

 Miracle Playground
"Finally, after a child with a disability was pushed aside when a busload of kids unloaded at the playground, a parent wrote an editorial for the local paper: "The Not So Miracle Playground." "We had to smell the coffee then," Meeker said.".link

In both the  parks cited above,these parks may have been designed as inclusive, but they initially failed at being inclusive. Real  inclusion was only achieved when the sites started to go beyond their fixed inclusive designs...

  Shane's Inspiration

In response, Shane's Inspiration added two programs. My Play Club creates an organized day at the park—with games, face painting and goody bags—and is open to all children in the community. At the Los Angeles playgrounds, My Play Club is the last Saturday of each month, and the prizes and entertainment are sponsored by different corporate or civic groups. Saturday is the day the playgrounds see the heaviest use, and the Play Club makes sure families that include children with disabilities feel comfortable there, as they know they won't be the only ones, and they know there's some extra structure in place to help everyone play together and learn about each other. .link

Miracles Playground

"Frantic to solve the problem and save the playground, he once again began researching and talking with all the stakeholders involved. Eventually he connected with Shane's Inspiration, and Marnie Norris, the organization's director of programming, came to Dothan to teach a group of local volunteers, city staffers and parents how to facilitate My Play Club, a day of organized play at the playground that facilitates understanding and inclusivity. The day after their training, Dothan ran their first My Play Club at the Miracle Playground. "It was wonderful," Meeker said. Seventy-five people came and enjoyed bubbles, face painting, funny hats, music and playing together. And at the end of the day, kids talked about their experiences and what they'd learned playing together."

I don't know about  other Inclusive parks, but at these two, it was not the fixed equipment alone that created inclusiveness, also needed were "loose parts" (hey staff  are loose parts too! )

Inclusion and  Loose Parks
I see  at least   4 types of  inclusion,  accessibility inclusion, functional inclusion, access inclusion and  social inclusion

Accessibility Inclusion
The ADA was created to insures accessibility inclusion for parks and other public spaces.Loose parks do not inherently create accessibility inclusion.

 Functional Inclusion
Many  of our open spaces subtly  exclude use by many groups   through their their lack of offering  features   that would attract those groups,

NYC's Union Square Park offers a playground for little kids, , seating for older people, a dog run,  food as recreation (The Pavilion) and  shopping as recreation   (Greenmarket)   It is inclusive for people who want these features,   It subtly excludes use by  ping pong players,   the disabled who are offered no equipment of interest(wheel chair swings, audible balls etc) ,,  youth who would like to play  foosball, basketball. etc, etc etc  Can members of  these groups  still go to Union Square Park? Yes, but many do not bother as the park does not offer  recreation opportunities that interested them.

 Loose Parks are meant to offer Play Libraries of  equipment  for all ages or abilities.  

Access inclusion
 Loose Parks insure special needs folks can have access to equipment, with less  fear of being shunted to the sidelines on equipment usage.

A thought about what happened at Miracles Playgrounds and how it relates to access inclusion The equipment at Miracles  playgrounds is a limited shared resource, there aren't many of the items being offered. A busload of kids came in and all wanted to use that limited resource.  No one actually has  any ownership of the equipment. In the case of Miracles Playground, the disabled person using a piece of equipment was pushed aside by stronger people. , With a Play Library , first off you can have room for  a lot more equipment., whoever "checks out" an item has taken "ownership" of a piece of equipment until they  relinquishes the ownership of it. If someone would like to use the equipment that you posses, they will need to  ask you if they can join you. .  Where there is "ownership" courtesy is explicitly called for. Where there is no ownership, you can only hope for courtesy.Will every kid be courteous? No but unlike shared equipment where a parent would have trouble point to how their child was pushed out,  with loose parts by introducing  "equipment ownership", if a child takes away a piece of recreation equipment that your child currently "owns" a parent can hopefully more readily take the equipment away from the offender.

Social  Inclusion-

RMIT University researcher Brendon Hyndman found  the children were more inclusive when they played with everyday objects, compared to times when they used conventional playgrounds.   link

Loose Parks are more socially inclusive then fixed parks.

BTW I was talking to several people with disabilities about NYC's parks and the disabled. One of them let me know that in a park with inclusive play equipment,  they had seen a child with disabilities be pushed aside. Simply creating a park with inclusive pl;ay equipment does not necessarily create social inclusion.

 Not so special special needs equipment
As it turns out much   "special needs” recreation  equipment  need not be special, they just need to be available .  For example puppets  and   Lego  for autism,  a hula hoop for the blind , Parkinson disease, and stroke victims ,    Bilibo for Downs Syndrome, horse shoes for senior, reading material for people in wheelchairs,  virtual reality for people of very limited movement ability.

Bilibo is a standard toy found on many Special needs List


Southern Arizona Inclusive Lego® Building Club Mission Statement:
To provide a structured environment for children with special needs to develop friendships and gain experience with social interactions with their neuro-typical peers while playing with LEGOS link

Fat Brain Toys has hundreds of regular toys that people have rated as to their use for special needs situations.

Check out some of the categories  above, In a fixed inclusive park, you would have at best a few items in each category.  in a Play Library- Loose Park you can offer a lot of  items.

I was talking to my niece, she said to me that kids get tired of toys after a while. With a Loose Park, you got a lot more objects to switch to as you get tired. And as you grow from kid to youth, teen, young  adult, senior, you'll be able to find items for each age group in a Loose Park.

Special, special needs equipment 
In situations where a piece of special special needs equipment is requested for a park ,  a Loose Park  system allows for purchase of the item   when requested. After purchase, have it delivered to the  a parkhouse, nearby  library, or parks department facility whose staff  will place it in a locker. 

                                                           Audible ball for the visually impaired
                               available from Amazon, free 2 day delivery with a Amazon Prime account

 It is impossible to know which toys a child will connect with, which they will enjoy, which they want to continue to play with for hours on end.  link

Meridian Township purchased this all-terrain wheel chair with grant assistance from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s “Access to Recreation” program along with a contribution from the Okemos Kiwanis Club in 2008.

There is NO FEE to use the all-terrain wheel chair, and in order to best serve the community; it may only be utilized within the Meridian Township park system.  link

ROXBORO, N.C. (May 17, 2011) – Fishing on Mayo Lake has become more accessible, thanks in part to a cooperative effort between the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and Person County Recreation Arts and Parks, who are providing free loaner adaptive fishing gear to physically challenged anglers.
The adaptive fishing gear, which can be borrowed from the Mayo Park office, is available free of charge through the Wildlife Commission’s Tackle Loaner Program.  Park staff has electric reels, pole harnesses, easy-cast fishing poles and easy-grip gloves available to loan to anglers who have limited hand, arm and upper body movement.

 The adaptive fishing gear is funded through a 75-25 percent cost-share venture between the Commission and the parks department and is available on a first-come-first-serve basis through the Commission’s Tackle Loaner Program, which loans rods and reels just as a library loans books. Anglers register to receive a tackle loaner ID card that lets them check out a rod and reel for free for the day. While the program is geared toward children under 16, anyone interested in fishing can participate.


Unlikefixed equipment only  inclusive playgrounds  Loose Parks
- are inexpensive.
-can serve all ages and abilities not just kids
-can add new equipment in days not decades
 can be fast tracked, up and running in months not years
-can be in EVERY park in a city
-Load balance better, you can add multiple copies of popular items based on demand
-are in your neighborhood, available for daily use

Inclusive playgrounds do a good job on  certain types of inclusion, and don't do a great job on others. Loose Parks also are good with some types of inclusion and are not as good as others. The answer is not one or the other,  the answer is communities should create both, and let users decide which they feel is best for their individual circumstances.

 The Theory of Loose Parts

  Loose parts are objects and materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change within their play. .... It has often been observed that children presented with a gift will play longer with the box than with the toy that was in it  link

I n 1972, architect Simon Nicholson developed the Theory of Loose Parts; the idea that loose parts, materials which can be moved around, designed and redesigned, and tinkered with; create infinitely more opportunities for creative engagement than static materials and environments. Basically, the more materials there are the more people can interact.   link

Original  : How NOT to Cheat Children  The Theory of Loose Part

 RMIT University, Australia

  RMIT University researcher Brendon Hyndman found  the children were more inclusive when they played with everyday objects, compared to times when they used conventional playgrounds. Picture: 
Jay Town

"Conventional playgrounds are designed by adults - they don't actually take into consideration how the children want to play, how the children actually direct their play."
"Schools are putting all this money into designing playgrounds, and requiring all this funding,'' Mr Hyndman said.
"This is a very cost-effective, simple idea and it's just showing a range of benefits that have been even better than your fixed, conventional playgrounds."  link

University of North Carolina
 A recent study of daycare-center playgrounds found that when kids had access to items like balls, hula hoops, and jump ropes, they were more active than when they had only stationary structures to play on... Typical playground equipment does help develop certain motor skills, like climbing," says study coauthor Dianne Ward, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "But kids play harder and longer when they have more portable playthings around."

David Rockwell. Imagination Playground
"The idea for the loose parts has passed muster with the toughest of critics — gangs of children who came on test play dates. All of the gatherings began the same way, Mr. Rockwell said. With parents standing out of harm’s way, the children would pick up a few of the parts and start building their own stuff, solitary projects. 
“One would make a tower, one would make a path,” he said. “Well, first, the boys would take the noodles and hit each other for five or 10 minutes, which would of course alarm all the parents. But within 10 or 15 minutes, you would see a kid look at what another kid was building, and say, ‘I wonder if I can connect my thing to you.’ ”   link


People Places -UC Berkeley
 The authors of the book People Places  made the statement  "The natural environment of a park is not enough to attract some elderly users, but a park with many activities can simulate social exchange and provide a sense of belonging"  Put another way, a bench is not enough to attract some seniors to a park.

Rockefeller Park

At playgrounds I see parents watching children or pushing swings. At Loose Parks I see parents and children playing together as equals

Types of Play


There are many types recreation children  need . Fixed equipment only playgrounds  often only offer active (and then only some types of active). Library-Parks model playgrounds are far more inclusive.

 Children with severe learning disabilities
take much longer to learn basic concepts
through play with educational or
manipulative toys and have difficulty
generalising skills. They will benefit from
having access to a wide range of toys
which offer them the opportunity to repeat
the same skills in different and interesting
ways. Toys need to be motivating and
rewarding to encourage a child with
severe learning disabilities to play. They
will need time to respond, assistance to
succeed and may want to repeat the
activity beyond the boredom threshold of
the adult playing with them!
Other skills can be developed in play e.g.
attention and concentration, size, shape,
colour, positional concepts, matching,
sorting, selecting and naming, number
and time. However, toys involving more
than one basic concept, e.g. colour and
shape, may cause confusion and
therefore each concept is best taught
separately before combining them.

Messy play is an important activity for
children with all types of disabilities as
they are less likely to enjoy the tactile
experience of getting themselves into
messy situations in everyday life.
Finger paints, gluing collage materials,
cornflour mixed to a paste with cold water,
play dough, aerosol cream and shaving
foam, jelly, instant puddings, and cooking
etc can all be used to provide messy play
activities in which children with physical
disabilities can be assisted to participate.

Stocking a Play Library

In a Loose Park, rather then an architect making all recreation equipment design  decisions and hoping these decisions meet the needs of park goers, , the actual park users will make the design decisions  of what equipment they want to use  in a park.


 The question of what exactly will be available for lending and borrowing will depend on what the community suggests. Community members have been able submit their ideas through the library’s website and will be able to continue to do so through next week. Once ideas have been submitted, they will appear as comments on the page. The most popular objects will be purchased. (Within reason, of course; the library has allotted a budget of $3,900.) So far, the two most popular ideas, tied at 150 votes each, have been a sewing machine and video games—clearly, a variety of demographics are being served here. In response, the library has already bought six sewing machines and expects to begin circulating them by mid-February" - Sacramento Public  Library  of Things

 I did a in person  survey of park goers in the  Midtown South Area of Manhattan. It asked people to choose items they would like from a list of items.   Here are some of the results...

Most requested activities
New York Times
Ping pong,
Exercise Bikes 
 Jump Rope,
 Hula Hoop
Wall Street Journal
Pool Table
Air Hockey
Gian Screen TV
Horse Shoes
Board Games
Comic Books
Rocking Chairs
Swing Seats
Nok Hockey
Squeeze Balls
Daily News
Corn Hole
Power Bands
Least Requested activities

In designing  a Fixed equipment park, design occurs only before construction. If no one asked for an item before it was built, it aint't gonna happen. In designing a Loose Park, design  occurs continually,  At any time a request is made and funds are available that item can be added.

-Interlibrary System
The Cuyahoga   County Public Library   offer more than 700 different age appropriate toys, including toys adapted for children with special needs. Items may be requested online for delivery to any one of their 25 branches  link  

Many branch libraries would be hard pressed to store 700 objects like these. .But by  having on premise a core of commonly requested equipment,   a branch library  can meet the most requested "recreation objects"  in real time, and act as the delivery  location for other  requested items. 

A Loose Park with a  Play Library can offer a far greater variety of special needs recreation equipment, then a Fixed Park.
At Ohio State University's  Nisonger Center, over 1,500 developmental, adapted toys, switches, and low-tech communication devices are available   link

 Disneyland   and Distance

Going to Disneyland, is  an incredible experience but how often do you get to go to Disneyland? We have only 2 Disneyland'sin the United States  so the answer for most people is not very often.

It kinda the same with Inclusive playgrounds, these are great, but there are only about 100 of them in the United States, So most people will not be getting to them very often.

On a day to day basis what's important is not Disney, it's your neighborhood park.Most of our neighborhood parks offer  very few activities for people who are able. And far fewer for people with disabilities.

The further you are from an park the less likely you are to use it.  I found this in  Christopher Alexanders A Pattern Language. After 3 blocks (minutes) park usage drops off drastically .link

-The Loose Park concept has the potential to give special needs folks a outdoor playspace as close as possibl;e to where they live

-The Play Library concept has the potential to  offer hundreds of playthings that can be borrowed and used in ones own house.( see Cuyahoga above)

"For many people with a disability, a significant amount of effort is required to get out of their house " Inclusive Play Design Guide

 If we were to take an inventory of playspaces nationwide, what we would see is that there are a few extraordinary playspaces that really do allow all children regardless of abilities to be playing together. But we also see that the vast majority of playgrounds, while they meet the letter of the law, they do not meet the inclusion needs of children where they spend most of their time, at their small local park   link

Cost of Building Inclusive Parks

Building fixed equipment Inclusive Parks is very expensive...

Boushh estimated that the average cost for a normal playground is around $100,000. The average cost for everything associated with a fully inclusive playground is between $500,000 and $1 million, he said. link

and can often be done only with privetae funding.

The higher cost of "inclusive" playgrounds means many local governments can't afford them.”-NPR.

 Loose equipment Inclusive parks are far more affordable.

Creating Loose Parks with Play Libraries, are a way to create affordable inclusion.   

Jay Beckwith is  one of the “fathers of the modern playground,”  In an article "The Impact of the ADA on Playground Design "Jay talks about the idea  of creating  affordable  solutions to increasing inclusion. Here's Jay on using loose parts for inclusion...

  • Loose Parts
    As the huge success of Imagination Playground demonstrates, loose parts are absolute kid magnets and ensure long duration and deeply engaging play episodes....

  • Another solution is providing a “mini-adventure playground.” This can be as simple as creating a designated area surrounded by a low fence and placing a lockable storage area within this zone. To reduce theft or vandalism, the storage can be chain link with a combination padlock the combination to which is provided to parents who agree to simple terms of use. Changing the combination periodically is a good idea. Filling the storage with wooden boxes, planks, cable spools, and other play-useful but low value items is all that is needed to complete the package  .link

  •  Jaron Black on the left is visually impaired, his friend on the right is blind. I met them at the 23rd street and 8th avenue subway stop.. Our talk let me know  they want more active recreation activities for the visually handicapped then are currently offered. Bell Balls are one item they would like to see offered in parkhouses.

    Talk to Me


    People don't generally talk to strangers in public spaces. Have one bench or table   with a sign "  talk to me" and an explanation of the concept. . If you are sitting there, it means you want people to talk to you. .

    I  was talking Nooria  at the Andrew Heskill Braille and Talking Book Library (40 W 20th St). I asked her what activities she would like as part of the upgrade.,One of her suggestions was to be "included". by sighted people.  I suggested  she have a seat where the  talk to me sign was.

     Play with Me -part of the Table Game Area
    "One hobby my visually impaired friend Charlene and I share is a love for games of practically every sort. We've wiled away many a glorious breezy afternoon at the cabin playing card games like Kaiser, 500, Euchre, and Pinochle using my friend's special pack of brailled cards. To this day I'm still trying to figure out how she cheats using that deck.

    We've also played several classic tabletop diversions, like Monopoly and Scrabble, using boards that feature raised surfaces that allow Char to feel (in the tactile sense) where to place a playing piece on the game grid. In the case of Monopoly, the Community Chest, Chance, and property cards are brailled so that Char can read them without assistance from a sighted person. Similarly, the letter tiles used in Char's version of Scrabble are brailled, so you can imagine that I watch very closely when she puts her hand inside the bag to draw out new tiles. She's a slippery one, I tell you". link

    By offering braille cards, and Scrabble at the Flatiron Playspace, table games area, the area will  be inclusive towards the area's s large Visually Impaired community  (both Visions for the Blind and the Andrew Heiskell Talking book library are in the neighborhood).

    Fixed Parks and Inclusion
    Recently in NYC  I attended meetings to create an inclusive park based upon the fixed equipment model. As far as I can tell the  park was designed that included inclusive features for kids, but not youth, adults and seniors. Exactly what are the

    I ran into a TV segment on the Miracle Bridge Playground in in Palo Alto, billed as the countrys most inclusive .Wondering  why,it got that title    I watched the video,  it showed a inclusive playground designed not only for children but also adults . Here is a link to the TV segment  

    So   it is possible to build a fixed equipment  inclusive play space with features for all ages.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment