Auditing the City’s Playgrounds, Council Lays Plans to Make Them More Fun for More Children

Currently, only one playground in the south-east part of the city meets the council’s criteria for an “inclusive” playground, a recent council audit found.

That was the one at Sean Moore Park in Irishtown, because of its wheelchair-accessible play equipment, natural sensory elements, and access to nature.

The other 13 playgrounds assessed in the area were rated as just partially inclusive, because they had some inclusive equipment or were wheelchair accessible.

Mountpleasant Square Park in Ranelagh was the only one rated as not inclusive. Although it is wheelchair accessible, the single wooden free-play structure isn’t inclusive, and there isn’t enough space to install more equipment, the council report says.

Dublin City Council assessed how inclusive playgrounds are in that part of the city to children with diverse needs so that it can improve them, said Debbie Clarke, the council’s play development officer.

(There may be audits done of other areas, too, but the council didn’t respond to an email asking. At the meeting, Clarke mentioned a similar report done of the south-central area.)

In 2022, the council will write an action plan for each playground and tally up budget and staff resources, she says.

The action plan could include putting in wheelchair-accessible equipment, as 10 of the 15 assessed playgrounds do not have any.

Playgrounds need at least one piece of wheelchair-accessible equipment, said Clarke. “Because otherwise the child in the wheelchair is totally excluded.”

How to Judge?

The council has graded each playground as red, amber or green, depending on whether it is fully, partially or not at all inclusive, says Clarke.

That takes into account criteria like whether it has inclusive play equipment, wheelchair-accessible equipment, natural elements and multi-sensory elements, she said.

And how people get to the playground too, whether the paths are wide enough and gates accessible, say. “Because that also has a knock-on effect for parents with prams and buggies,” says Clarke.

The report is “desk based”, it says. So there will need to be a more in-depth look and audit of what’s possible to add in terms of new play facilities, it says.

At the moment, the report doesn’t say precisely what in each playground is inclusive or not inclusive.

Belgrave Square in Rathmines is listed as having two partially inclusive play units, no wheelchair-accessible units, and no nature-based, multisensory play areas.

It shows a list of “reasonable adjustments” that the council could make, like adding a chill-out zone, toilets, and more inclusive and accessible play equipment.

Those ideas are just a starting point, says Clarke.

The council wants to keep interviewing children and young people too, to hear what they think about how the council is getting on, says the audit report.

Paul Hoenigmann, the managing director of Inclusive Play, a playground-design consultative group in the UK, said it’s hard to assess the report when he hasn’t looked at the playgrounds himself.

But “the fact that they’re focusing on this is really, really positive. It’s a very difficult area and a really challenging area,” he said.

What’s Inclusive?

In Mountpleasant Square Park on Thursday, a group of kids race around the circle of grass at the centre, following the path of a rolling ball.

Their parents sit and stand in chatting groups around the edges of the small park just off Ranelagh Road.

By the path into the park is “free-play” equipment, upright planks of wood around a two-metre-tall square structure.

Large wooden steps lead to the inside of the square, where kids can stand, toddle, or peek out at the park through gaps between planks.

Caroline Chambers, standing in a puffer jacket with some other parents, says her kids enjoy playing with the structure. It’s whatever they want it to be. “It can be a castle, it can be a pirate ship.”

But it’s not wheelchair accessible, she says. “If a child had the body strength to climb up on it out of the wheelchair, maybe. But it’s not designed for accessibility.”

There should be something for all children in every park, she says, but there is loads of nature in this park. “Children can go around picking up cones. It doesn’t have to be prescriptive stuff.”

The whole park offers free play, she says. “There is no play area. They get to just pick up a log from over there, and build a fort, and build a pretend fire.”

Sanam O’Shea, beside her on a bench, says if the kids want play equipment, they go to the nearby Ranelagh Gardens. Mountpleasant Square isn’t really a playground park, she says.

In the report, Ranelagh Gardens is listed as being partially wheelchair accessible, but it has wheelchair-accessible play equipment. It doesn’t mention whether it has inclusive play units.

The report also notes that accessibility and inclusion is not only applicable to wheelchair users.

Hoenigmann says there’s a difference between accessibility and inclusion. Just because something is wheelchair accessible, doesn’t actually mean that it’s inclusive, he says. “It may make it exclusive.”

For example, although ramps are wheelchair-accessible, they aren’t inclusive to all children, he says.

“There’s some children who will be bored and won’t be able to be stimulated by that, because it’s designed mainly for wheelchair access. So other kids are then excluded from that,” he says.

A playground without play equipment can be inclusive, he says. “You’ve got trees, you’ve got the smell, you’ve got nature, pathways, you may have water there. There’s all these sensory elements.”

A roundabout may be both inclusive and accessible, for example. With steps and bars for children to climb on, and space for kids in chairs to join in, he says.

“Everybody being able to use the same piece of equipment, and play together, rather than having a piece of equipment for children in a wheelchair,” he says.

“It’s all about having products so that everybody can play in an inclusive environment,” he says, “and there are no barriers.”

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