Playgrounds are wonderful places to learn about lots of things; body movement, cause and effect, balance, meeting other children, and just having fun. When a child with a visual impairment goes to a playground, their experience may be vastly different than a child without a visual challenge. There are a few easy ways to adapt a playground to make it more accessible for children with low vision as well as for those who are functionally or totally blind.
High Contrast Is The Way To Go
Most modern play structures have all sorts of colors and are full of contrast, but sometimes, the critical areas blend in with one another. As an example, you could have blue swings, a yellow slide, and a green structure for the main frame. All those colors help to identify the activity areas but by having the main frame all green, the steps blend in and the edges seem to disappear. By highlighting certain elements, not the whole structure, the necessary information can stand out and not be obtrusive to the set as a whole. A yellow or white edge on the lip of each step, a highlight dot where bolts connect rails or frame parts, even a stripe of paint or yellow electrical tape around a railing all make for easy visual cues of changes in elevation or caution areas.
Sometimes a play structure is made of wood and can easily blend in with the background setting if wood chips or much is used as a play surface. Again, just putting bright dots (paint, tape, or stickers) where poles connect or are near head level, will get the visual information where it needs to go much easier then making it all yellow.
Auditory Clues Can Build Orientation
Having sound sources within a play area can help to add a new element of fun to the environment but can also add to a child’s ability to travel independently within the play area. Having a set of wind chimes or bells, or even several sets with unique sounds, can help a child to reorient themselves auditorally if they become disoriented. By listening to sound cues, they may be able to go from the slide to the steps with only the sound source as their guide for which direction to travel. Many garden and landscaping stores sell poles with a shepard’s hook that can be inserted into the grass or wood chips and will hold a set of wind chimes. Even if you have to bring it with you each time you go to the park, it will help your child be able to travel with greater independence and feel more comfortable and confident. This allows them to know where they are whether they are touching a landmark or not. The important thing to aim for is consistency, putting the sound source in the same location every time so they can reliably predict direction from it. If there is not enough wind for the wind chime, a small, battery operated fan can be clipped to the pole and directed toward the chimes.