Designing spaces for people with disabilities requires careful consideration to provide a place where the objective is to include everyone. A barrier-free environment where people of all abilities can come together.
Parks are essential elements of any city and play a crucial role in all phases of one’s life, be it childhood, adulthood or even old age. The centre-point of our local communities, parks help to uplift neighbourhoods. Inclusive parks cater to the needs of all by eliminating bias for those who are differently-abled and enable all to develop physically, socially and emotionally.
‘Accessible design is good design – it benefits people who do not have disabilities as well as people who do. It is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology for everyone.’
— Steve Ballmer
Encompassing below are the top 10 things that should be taken into consideration while designing parks for the disabled.
1) Using Multi-Sensory Elements
Understanding the user is the ultimate key whenever designing for the disabled. To create a multi-sensory experience, a wide selection of shrubs, plants and trees can stimulate the mind, strengthen the body and help to develop a sense of imagination. Sandpits surrounded by a soft scape and sealed path allows children in wheelchairs to enjoy the sensory experience of engaging with their companions.
While designing for people with various sensory disabilities, it is vital to create opportunities and to enhance the overall experience. For people with auditory disabilities, the design can incorporate musical instruments and talking tubes, and for those with vestibular disabilities, There can be the use of balancing spinners or swings. For people with impaired vision, The use of contrasting colours can be with the help of brightly coloured play panels. Design can also have tactile pavings as it creates contrast in texture and makes it easier to use pathways.
2) Accessible Parks and Equipment
When it comes to accessibility, the non-impaired, as well as impaired individuals, must respond to the design correspondingly. In a park, equipment and all zones should be made easily accessible, movable and approachable by using the following things:
It should be of low gradient that leads to all the facilities of the park. They should have handrails for easy access to a wheelchair.
ii) Seats and Tables
Parks should offer seats and tables of various heights, with back supports and armrests. It should be adequate for people of all abilities and should be of soft, smooth materials.
iii) Play Equipment
The park design for the disabled should be in such a way that all equipment viz slides, swings and spinners should be wheelchair friendly or wide enough for a guardian to accompany an impaired person. Such experiences help them to develop coordination and balance.
Continuous and unobstructed paths that connect the equipment to nature encompassing the park. There should be support poles at a uniform distance for the elderly, children or people with disabilities.
While designing for the disabled people, The inclusive park environment facilitates all hurdles and approaches all levels of ability so that the disabled children can play with other kids. These barrier-free parks do so much for the community by educating, bringing families and people together. They demonstrate that kids of all abilities enjoy exploring, discovering, cooperating and having fun together. Parks have numerous benefits- they welcome everyone by becoming the destination meeting places and help eliminate bias for children with disabilities.
4) Safety and Comfort
Effortlessly accessible and conclusively inclusive parks create a welcoming and secure environment for people. Not just while you are using any play equipment or other facilities, but the holistic experience of the park. Spaces which are comfortable and user-friendly for people of all abilities help them to develop skills, learn new things every day while having fun and creating joyful memories. A safe and comforting environment also brings people to get to know themselves better and connects them with the natural environment.
Designing parks for the disabled should provide numerous possibilities for the people to have curiosity and keep exploring the limits of their aptitudes. They should build conveniently on the abilities they possess and help them gain new skills. The design should keep disabled people in mind, But, it should also integrate all the senses and encourage social activities like climbing, running, spinning, sliding, swinging, and so many more. A park which engages and excites people of all abilities is inclusive in reality.
Parks are known to be centre-points for social interactions. While designing for the disabled, it should consist of activities and equipment that all ability children can use at the same time, so they get the chance to communicate and socialize with others. It helps to develop their cognitive, physical and sensory skills which they will use throughout their lives. Not only for the children, but there should also be areas where adults can overlook their kids and interact with other parents.
While designing for the disabled people, the materials used in paving and surfacing should be accessible, simple in layout and overall quality. The surface of the passageways in parks should be of non-slip materials and have divergent colours that stand out from the natural environment. The focus should be more on significant areas and to attract the highest public usage by using materials that are multi-functional and thoughtfully designed. Soft and smooth finished sustainable materials should be which are locally available too.
An inclusive park not only caters to specific equipment for people of all abilities but also designs a cohesive community for their social development, communication and interaction. Equipment that boosts cooperative activities makes children learn numerous new things throughout the day. They may be playing alone or while looking at others and mimicking or conversing with them and taking turns to play. It takes away the barriers to exclusion, both physical and social, and provides a sensory-rich experience for people with all abilities.
9) Opportunity for Calmness
Sometimes people with disabilities undergo a sensory overload and need to retreat to a quiet place to recalibrate. So the design of the parks should be such that it includes secluded areas which are still within the sightline. Examples include jungle gyms or a multi-play structure or even playhouses where the child feels they are enclosed, and the parent/guardian can still see them. Another use for quiet and isolated spaces can be for meditation or prayer purposes. The park design for the disabled should include a mix of both more relaxed areas and activities that may involve music, lights or spinning motions.
10) Signage and Wayfinding
Wayfinding plays a crucial role in parks when designing for the disabled. By creating mental images, it guides the people around and also informs them regarding the conveniences present in and around the park. For persons with impaired hearing, there should be proper signage with information boards which is legible and has sufficiently large text size, distinct contrast and illumination. Similarly, for persons with impaired vision, There should also be information boards in Braille. This imageability formed by signages and wayfinding methods prevents people from losing their paths and finding their way back.