NEOS is the first piece of playground equipment that combines the speed and fun of electronic games with the explosive movement of aerobic exercise. Research shows playing NEOS delivers a workout comparable to jogging or playing soccer, raising heart rates by an average of 20 percent. In the ever present fight against obesity, NEOS disguises heart-pounding exercise as pure, unadulterated fun.
It is important for people of all ages and abilities to get moving. Getting them out of the house and into the great outdoors is also key. Did you know that children with disabilities need to be given the same types of recreational experiences as their peers and encouraged to get their heart rate up and burn calories? Obesity rates for children with disabilities are approximately 38 percent higher than for children without disabilities[i]. Contributing factors to this high rate are physical limitations that may reduce a person’s ability to exercise and a lack of accessible places for children with disabilities to exercise.
According to Stuart Schleien, Fredrick Green, and Charlsena Stone (1999) it takes three things to create a truly inclusive experience. The first is the ability to get to the activity. NEOS must be installed on a durable, stable surface to ensure that all people can access the game and play safely.
The second is the ability of a person to function in the space. For example, on the NEOS 360, the game buttons are placed at the optimal reach range for a child using a wheelchair. This does not limit the exercise potential for people not using a mobility device. The middle of the NEOS 360 has plenty of room for maneuvering. The installation recommendations suggest that the NEOS be placed away from the rest of the playground equipment, leaving room for a “cheering section.” This extra space also helps children with a variety of disabilities to function in the space by providing room for service animals and equipment. It also helps a child with autism familiarize himself with the game before jumping in.
The third thing needed to create an inclusive experience is social inclusion, “one’s ability to gain social acceptance and/or participate in positive interactions with peers during recreation activities.” Because NEOS attracts people of all ages from toddlers to grandparents, it helps build this social acceptance. People gather around and cheer for the players regardless of their playing ability. In my experience, it is rare that a child with a disability gets cheered by their peers in a typical setting; making NEOS an even more positive experience.
When given the chance and the right environment, children are creative in figuring out ways for everyone to play. In one instance at a playground in Ohio, a group of 8-year-olds were playing NEOS when they noticed a girl, Angela, not playing. Angela has cerebral palsy, which affects her ability to move most of her muscles, and requires she use a wheelchair to get around.
The other children asked Angela if she would like to play. Her eyes lit up and she nodded yes. The kids pushed her right into the middle of the game. Angela added more challenge to the game as the children needed to get around her wheelchair to hit the buttons. Angela watched and laughed and the kids circled around her. It was a case of true inclusion and it was wonderful to watch.
What pieces of inclusive play equipment have you witnessed children playing on at your local playground?