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Playgrounds and Playground Equipment for the Handicapped

A while ago I visited a school for the handicapped and its playground. Special equipment for the handicapped had been developed for this playground. The school administration were very proud of this and demonstrated the equipment to me with the awareness that they had done a pioneering deed.

There was a roundabout with latticed railings. It was stopped by an attendant, a ramp was let down and a child in a wheelchair was pushed up this ramp onto the roundabout. The attendant bent over, lifted up the ramp, bolted it, and secured the wheelchair.

Since all this happened behind the back of the wheelchair, the child became visibly frightened and nervous. Then by the same procedure a second child was placed on the roundabout on the other side. Then the attendant set the round about in motion with strong shoves.

After a few revolutions he stopped it again, on the grounds that - "that's enough" - . The two were tediously liberated from their roundabout again, and the next ones were pushed on.

A few visibly enjoyed the carousel ride, but in the eyes of many one saw fear and the feeling of being manipulated.

The other pieces of equipment were also similar play and manipulation machines on which the user had no chance to use them by himself according to his will and desires. Rather he was used. It seemed as if the attendants were playing and the handicapped were the playthings.

We discussed for a long time there what is good for and fair to the handicapped and what is not, and just what actually are the handicapped, just where do handicaps begin, where do they stop, what is still normal and what is not.

The discussion showed me how different our ideas and our ranges of tolerance are, how different we see and assess handicaps.

I have therefore tried to work out a type of pamphlet on the topic of "Playground Equipment for the handicapped".

It is a working paper which is not yet fully complete and finished. I would like to present it here for discussion. Perhaps it is a start towards creating playgrounds which are good for and fair to the handicapped.
 

What is actually "TO BE HANDICAPPED"

Our environment has been so shaped by us that the majority of people manage it. The physical and mental capabilities and possibilities of most people are sufficient for them to find their own way in this world. We label the majority of people, these average people, as normal people, that is as people, who meet or correspond to a norm.

All people who strongly deviate from this average, from this norm, cannot use our environment as normally as us normal people. They are handicapped in dealing with this world.

If the majority of people were blind and our world was geared to that, the seeing would be "the handicapped" because they couldn't find their way in a "dark" world.

If the majority of people were only a meter tall, like Kindergarten children, and our world was geared to that, we grown ups would be "the handicapped" (we can test this in any Kindergarten).

If the majority of people could react as fast as Stirling Moss and drove like him, then we car drivers would be "the handicapped", because we react to slowly and awkwardly.

The deviation of the norm does not create the handicapped, but rather the formation of our environment creates the handicapped.

If the formation of our environment were more many-sided there would be fewer handicapped.

Handicaps are restrictions of freedom.

Handicaps are individual cases. The deviation from the norm is individual There are few deviations which are of the same kind.

Due to the kind and manner of the arising of the deviation and because these deviations can possibly also be manifold, no deviation is the same as the other.

Handicapped people are not people who can be fitted into a norm. They are people with individual qualities.

Handicaps are individual!

make every handicapped person into a unique case.

The origin or arising of the handicap and daily coping with the handicap have also emotionally and mentally imprinted the handicapped and have also made them into individualists.

It would certainly be more honest if we no longer spoke of handicapped people, but rather of people with individual qualities who because of our "normed" environment have difficulties using it in accordance with the norms.
 

Playground equipment for people with individual qualities

In order to usefully develop playground equipment for the respective individual qualities it is necessary to work out a grouping of individual qualities. In doing so, they must be ordered not according to the initiator of the qualities, but rather according to the effects and their degree.

Table Nr 1 of the individual qualities:

1.   Visual Ability
1.1 weakness of vision
1.2 badly impaired vision
1.3 blind

2.   Hearing Ability
2.1 hard of hearing
2.2 hardly able to hear
2.3 deaf

3.   Grasping Ability
3.1 weakness of grip and hand, hand fatigue
3.2 severe impairment of grasping
3.3 grasping only with artificial limb
3.4 no possibility of grasping

4.   Ability to Walk
4.1 run neither far nor fast, quick tiring
4.2 walking only with crutches
4.3 can only stand

5.   Wheelchair Ability
5.1 propel the wheelchair themselves, can leave the wheelchair
      by themselves
5.2. propel the wheelchair themselves, can leave the wheelchair
      only with assistance
5.3 wheelchair user, can go alone in the wheelchair only with the
      aid of special devices (drive mechanism, steering)
5.4 can use wheelchair only with assistance

6.   Ability to Balance
6.1 disturbance of sense of balance only with swinging!
     see-saw! round-about-like movements
6.2 disturbance of sense of balance through seizures unpredictable
6.3 disturbance of sense of balance, cannot hold himself upright

7.   Reaction Ability
7.1 only slow reactions
7.2 impaired reactions, can not react to danger

8.   Coordination Ability
8.1 erratic movements
8.2 uncoordinated movements
8.3 cannot control movements at all

9.   Social and Behavioural Ability
9.1 problems in social behaviour, lack of readiness to help
9.2 introversion, takes hardly any notice of environment, melancholia
9.3 aggressive, dangerous social behaviour

10.   Capacity for Intelligence
10.1 weak intelligence, diminished responsibility for his own actions
10.2 occasional mental confusion, fit-like
10.3 weak-mindedness, no responsibility for his own actions
10.4 hardly any mental movement, introversion

In addition to this grouping, the time span and the increase or decrease of the individual qualities should also be included into a table.

Table Nr 2 on the time span of the time span of individual qualities:

  1. Temporary - through disease, bandage, cast, corset, etc.
  2. Occasional, periodically through I medication, therapy, prosthesis, etc.
  3. Reconvalescence, through training, . therapy the qualities are improved in a short while.
  4. Qualities with long range prospects of improvement.
  5. Qualities with increasing handicap (senile decay)
  6. Qualities after an accident/sickness with permanent damage
  7. Qualities from birth


From these two tables one can see the how many-sided and difficult the consideration is of which playground equipment is appropriate. No one piece of equipment can in itself be good for. all individual qualities. There can only be equipment for certain qualities or equipment which with special devices is useful for a particular group of qualities. But it is also possible that because of that certain equipment can be not useful or can even be dangerous for another group.

Therefore every piece of playground equipment should be labelled:

  1. for which group of individual qualities this equipment is useful
  2. for which group of individual qualities this equipment is under certain conditions still usable
  3. for which group of individual qualities this equipment is not suitable or is possibly even dangerous.


In judging these three groups it should be considered that:

I have tried with a third table to show which equipment is suitable for which user group with which individual qualities, and which is still (conditionally) usable or dangerous. (Whereby in part additions, devices, or safety measures are necessary).

Special warning and additional holding devices can also make equipment for users with individual qualities out of standard equipment without it being expensive.

Table 3
HUTS, HOUSES, SHELTERS PLATFORMS, TOWERS, RAMPS BRIDGES, SUSPENSION BRIDGES, CROSSING-NETS SWINGS, SEE-SAWS, CABLE-WAYS ROUND-ABOUTS SLIDES SAND-PLAY, EXCAVATORS, CRANES, WATER-PLAY
VISUAL ABILITY tactile information tactile information, additional safeguards by means of railings on ways up and down tactile information, additional safeguards by means of railings tactile information, acoustic signal when in use, mark safety zone by means of obstacles tactile information, acoustic signal when in use, mark safety zone by means of obstacles tactile information,  mark area around bottom of slide by means of obstacles tactile information, mark swivel and movement zone by means of obstacles
HEARING ABILITY no problems no problems no problems mark safety zone by means of obstacles mark safety zone by means of obstacles whole slide must be easy to survey from the beginning, mark area around bottom by means of obstacles mark swivel and movement zone by means of obstacles
GRASPING ABILITY no problems approaches able to be easily negotiated without aid of the hands approaches easily negotiable without aid of the hands, suspension-bridge/nets not suitable suitable only with special seats only with special seats or additional railings approach easily negotiable without aid od hands, not suitable for 3.4 only suitable from case to case
ABILITY TO WALK possibilities to sit possibilities to sit when the approaches are long, possibilities to sit at intervals for pauses possibilities to sit at intervals for pauses, no ways up which are too steeply inclined possibilities to sit for those who are waiting outside the safety zone for 4.3 only with special seating devices only conditionally suitable possibilities to sit, additional possibilities to hold on
WHEELCHAIR ABILITY ground/floor surface suitable for wheelchairs, wide entrances, turn and turn-around possibilities ground/floor surface suitable for wheelchairs, wide entrances, ramps not steeper than 12° ground/floor surface suitable for wheelchairs, wide entrances, ramps not steeper than 12° only with special seats,
5.4 only speacial equipment
only with passable entrances and safety handles and railings only with attendant, otherwise not suitable floor/ground surface suitable for wheelschairs, possibility to play at table height
ABILITY TO BALANCE no problems additional railings, make ways up and down safe additional railings, make ways up and down safe, in part not suitable only under certain conditions suitable not suitable only conditionally suitable handrails and possibilities to sit
REACTION ABILITY no problems make ways up and down safe make area where paths intersect safe secure safety zone by means of handrail secure safety zone by means of handrail, additional railings must prevent jumping on and off whole slide must be easy to survey from the beginning, mark area around bottom by means of obstacles secure swivel and movement area by means of handrail
COORDINATION ABILITY no problems make ways up and down safe additional railings, make ways up and down safe, in part not suitable only conditionally suitable only conditionally suitable only conditionally suitable only simple equipment suitable, complicated equipment from case to case as therapy
SOCIAL-BEHAVIOURAL ABILITY interior easiliy observable interior easiliy observable no problems ? secure against jumping on and off by means of railings ? movement equipment only conditionally, danger of aggression
CAPACITY FOR INTELLIGENCE interior easily obsevable, larger dimensions, so that even the fully grown up can still use interior easily observable, larger dimensions additional rails make ways up and down safe, larger dimensions secure safety zone by means of handrail,
larger dimensions
secure safety zone by means of handrail,
larger dimensions
slides not too long, larber dimensions larger dimensions

The technical safety, ergonomic, manufacturing, maintenance, and the durability requirements of the equipment are the same as for standard equipment. They are partly standardized, partly known through regulations and experience.

However, playground equipment for people with individual qualities should offer more play-fun, even beyond that of standard equipment.

Because people with individual qualities have been marked by their difficulties in using our world of norms. They are for the most part sensitive and fearful. According to situation and predisposition this leads quickly to shame, resignation, defiance or aggression.

Further features are slower movements and reactions, quick tiring, poor recognition of dangers and poor understanding of situations, This then often leads to social isolation.

Therefore the equipment should work especially against these problems.

The main requirement for such playground equipment, other than fun, joy in living, and cheering up, should therefore be:

Further Criteria of the equipment should be: But as our every-day work shows theory is one thing, practice another, and a pamphlet alone doesn't help much. Perhaps, however, it can serve as food for thought better playgrounds which are good for and fair to users.

                                                            Günter Beltzig
 

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