Playgrounds are a place of freedom and risk, where kids can explore new environments and learn valuable developmental skills. But how do children with visual impairments navigate this type of situation? They need play and exploration just as much as the next child, but the way they take in the world around them is different.
For that reason, specific elements of playground design can be more advantageous than others for these kids. Texture could turn a smooth, uninspiring surface into something fun to feel and experience, while bright colors may play a critical role in the safety of children with low vision. We’ll take a closer look at some aspects that can help you build an inclusive playground for the visually impaired.
Playground Design Considerations for Visually Impaired Children
The first step to creating a playground for visual impairments is understanding how these children see the world. They may run their hands along a surface to learn its shape or listen for sounds that tell them about where they are. We also want to consider how children with low vision see things differently from those with no vision. They won’t necessarily feel their way around, but they typically have an easier time with bright colors or dynamic movement.
Of course, these unique ways of learning mean specific accommodations can help them enjoy the playground to its fullest extent. Playgrounds are places where all children can play, including children of varying abilities. Playgrounds with design considerations for visually impaired children allows these children to play and make connections with their peers.
Some people worry that accommodations will somehow impact the experience of children without impairments, but most of them are very subtle. If you weren’t looking for these considerations, you likely wouldn’t even notice them. Many involve selecting equipment with textures or bold colors, something seeing children wouldn’t think twice about.
Here are a few ways you can create accessible, fun playgrounds for children with different levels of visual impairment.
Children With Low Vision
Kids with low vision need a little extra help seeing specific objects or materials. Some ways to make a playground more visible include the following.
- Brightly colored equipment: While many playgrounds tend to be colorful, this isn’t merely an aesthetic choice. For children with low vision, bright equipment and structures can help them see things more easily.
- Brightly colored safety markings: Sometimes, the edges of a piece of equipment can blur for children with low vision. Adding bright markings, such as thick yellow tape, can make it safer for them and easier to identify drop-offs and edges. This approach also applies to slides, especially if they are level with the play surface.
- Stripes on balls: Peripheral vision can be particularly difficult for children with low vision, which affects their response to motion. One way to make objects like basketballs and kickballs easier to see is to add a stripe of bright colors across them, which can create a flickering effect.
- Patterns to designate risk: Patterns can help make things stand out. Consider placing specific patterns under potentially dangerous areas, such as the padding under a climbing area or area under the swings. Children can learn that diamonds represent a place in which they need to be more careful. Combining these patterns with noticeable textures can also be helpful.
Children With Little to No Vision
As visibility decreases, children depend more on their sense of touch. Tactile and audible experiences are critical for these children to learn their way around and make full use of their environment. Here are some ways to incorporate those elements in a visually impaired playground.
- Textures: Include varying textured elements that children with visual impairments can feel. Doing so can be as straightforward as choosing equipment with different surfaces. You could also implement Braille or use panels with bumpy or rough textures. These surfaces are fun to touch and can help kids orient themselves by using them to identify different equipment. Remember to include these at ground level, because not all kids will want to climb.
- Tactile play spaces: Water features and sandboxes are excellent elements for incorporating new materials into the experience and allowing children to feel the world in an interesting way.
- Identifiable boundaries: For safety reasons, boundaries should include features that make them easier for children with visual impairments to see. Fences are ideal. Many children like to trail their fingers along a surface to understand it, and textures or other objects they can interact with are a great way to encourage this activity. Guidewires and rails where appropriate can also help children move throughout the space.
- Ease of exploration: It can be difficult for a child to learn an area that has too many sensory stimuli. It may help to come to the playground when it is quiet and fewer children are around, so the visually impaired child can explore freely.
- Sound features: Sound can be a useful location signal, as well as a fun activity. Musical instruments such as xylophones and windchimes, are great elements to include. Kids can listen for them to understand where they are in relation to the sounds. Also, sound features can distinct different playground quadrants, like if a child is near the swings or close to larger playground equipment.
- Textured flooring: Similar to using patterns to help children with low vision identify hazards, textured flooring can help those with little or no vision do the same. You could use these detectable textures on places containing swings, teeter-totters and basketball courts.
- Textured paths surrounding the playground: Create a textured path around the playground’s perimeter. That way, children with vision impairments can navigate the whole area and understand when they’re out of bounds. Highlight this border with a bright color, like yellow, so children with limited sight can more easily detect it.
- Textured paths navigating through the playground: Similarly, have textured and brightly colored paths navigating a child’s possible route through the playground. This route can safely get a child from point A to point B.
- Plants and sensory gardens: Touch and hearing aren’t the only senses you can play to — smell and taste are also strong contenders. Placing pleasantly scented greenery around, such as lavender and roses, offers children the chance to smell and touch various plants. A sensory garden appeals to all the senses, including hearing and touch. You can even include edible plants, such as chives or tomatoes, and touchable ones, like fuzzy lambs’ ears. Other sensory appeals include hearing, which you can satisfy through plants that have rattling seedpods or tall, rustly grass.
- Sound localization cues: With a variety of beepers, you can make a space full of audible information. Stationary beepers can mark goals or fixtures and beeper boxes can help mark a finish line. A beeper ball can allow children with visual impairments to play games like T-ball and beep baseball.
Another essential element of an inclusive playground is universal design. Consider that children with visual impairments may also have other disabilities. They might need walkers or wheelchairs, where wheelchair swings and moving bridges become excellent experiences. Accessibility is vital, and universal design can help playground makers offer it without taking anything away from aspects of the park designed for children with different disabilities or impairments.
Contact Playworld to Create a Visually Inclusive Playground
Now that you know what you need to create a visually inclusive playground, let us help you bring it to life.
At Playworld, we carry a wide variety of playground equipment, including sensory panels and components for different age groups. Our representatives are always ready to discuss how Playworld can help make your inclusive playground for the visually impaired more fun, safer and developmentally supportive.
Contact your local representative today for more information.