Accessible playgrounds: How a mother fights

Children with disabilities often stand next to playgrounds because the equipment and facilities are not barrier-free are. A mother set out to change that.

Have you ever tried to drive through sand in a wheelchair? Probably not, but everyone can imagine that it will be rather difficult. Nevertheless, a playground in Germany often still looks like this: slide, swing, climbing frame in a pit with sand. In an online survey, just 26 percent of parents stated that all play equipment on “their” playground – in fact, almost all of them have a “home playground” that they visit at least once a week – is barrier-free and can also be used with wheelchairs. Although the vast majority, namely 83 percent, describe accessible playgrounds as enriching for all children and at the same time see them as an important element to promote inclusion, little is being done in this regard: Six out of ten have not noticed any progress in the provision of inclusive playgrounds in their area.

More interest is required

“If your child isn’t affected and you don’t know anyone who is disabled, why should you care?”, states Katrin Müller soberly. The 39-year-old from Hirschaid in Upper Franconia has a healthy six-year-old son herself, but her sister lives just a village away with a daughter of the same age who was born with Down syndrome. “Actually, it’s a pity that I only came into contact with people with disabilities through my niece,” says Katrin Müller. “When I’m out with my sister, I feel so much discomfort and rejection. You are always looked at dumbly. Also the question ‘Didn’t you know beforehand and be able to have an abortion?’ is sometimes asked. It makes me so angry.” When she happened to come across an article about children with Down’s syndrome on the Internet from the “Piece to Happiness” campaign saying that one could apply for funding for an inclusive playground, the thought immediately came to her mind: At least in her immediate environment, she wants to help break down reservations.

Children treat each other more naturally

“Children are not afraid of contact. I can see that in my son. Ben calls Rosie his little sister, even though she’s actually his cousin, and treats her quite normally,” says Katrin Müller. “And when adults experience that children play together without disability playing a role, they take it for granted maybe too. Reversed education, so to speak.” Katrin Müller informs the mayor about the playground idea, who gets the operator of the integrative daycare center on site, they get a surcharge of “piece to happiness” and last August, after a long conversion, the now barrier-free playground “Regnitzau” newly opened. “I’m actually there with my son every day, and my niece is often there too. At the weekend it’s full of disabled and non-disabled children,” says Katrin Müller. “The parents also get to talk to each other. It’s great to see that it works.”

“The feedback we get after the inaugurations is always really enthusiastic,” says Christina Marx, spokeswoman for the social organization “Aktion Mensch”, one of the three partners of “Teil zum Glück”. “I think it’s great that the topic has been given more impetus overall since then. Municipalities are now contacting us and want to find out how to build playgrounds for everyone.”

But what exactly does that mean at all? “An inclusive playground has several characteristics, starting with the floor, of course,” explains Christina Marx. “It consists of a rubber surface, which is important for wheelchair users, but also for children with walking disabilities and is generally more pleasant for everyone than sand or wood chips when they fall off the play structure.” Playground equipment is also important. “A wheelchair swing is barrier-free, but not inclusive because it is special play equipment for a specific group and excludes others,” says Marx. “Instead, as many devices as possible should be accessible and usable for all children with and without disabilities – and have fun. That’s always the priority.”

This is what inclusion looks like

In Hirschaid there is on a surface made of recycled plastic with integrated damping for example, an inclusion carousel, in which wheelchairs can be driven at ground level, but children without disabilities can also board. A swing that can only be set in motion together. And a play tower landscape with many tactile and sensory elements for children with limited sensory perception. Even those who have coordination problems, for example due to being overweight, will find challenges in the different climbing areas. “Accessibility is an absolute must for 10 percent, necessary for 30 percent, but ultimately totally enjoyable for 100 percent. In the end, everyone benefits,” says Christina Marx. “And if you think about inclusion when building playgrounds from the start, it’s not really a cost factor either.”

The expert also emphasizes how important it is to work together right from the start. “In school you often experience that inclusion polarizes, sometimes it seems almost forced; a playground, on the other hand, is a voluntary offer. Children with and without disabilities meet here, but also from very different backgrounds, informally and in their free time. We can learn a lot from children. They don’t necessarily see the handicap of the other person. Only we adults always have the scissors in our heads.”

“The playground has done a lot for the community on site,” says Katrin Müller. The only thing that surprises her is that she has been asked a few times since then what kind of disability her son has. After all, you can also take the initiative if you are not affected yourself.

playgrounds for everyone

“Piece to Luck” is a joint fundraising campaign by “Aktion Mensch”, Rewe and Procter & Gamble. Since 2018 have been collected around 1.8 million euros and implemented 30 inclusive playground projects throughout Germany. Ten more are planned for 2022. For every P & G product purchased from Rewe (Always, Pampers, Oral-B, etc.), one cent goes to the initiative.


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