Play has an image problem it is perceived as a toddlery pass time which lasts for few months, during which time the teenies have inane fun and get loads of pictures taken of them. all playgrounds have to be made of brightly coloured metal in jolly shapes, like boats or animals and their surfaces are made out of bubble wrap .They have fences around them that would give a caged tiger pause for thought.
Tiddly peeps have tacet permission to do cute things during this time in their lives, to wear dressing up clothes to the shops or to have some face painter zoomorphise their gap-toothed face. (Local press obligatory image.) they are constantly rewarded with confections spun from bright blue chemicals.
They spend their entire time on bouncy castles, in sensory rooms or playing with a battery driven toy which requires them only to press a button to activate a hideous tinny wail of something that once may well have been music before it was digitally re-mastered to sound like a purple dinosaur.
If play has an image problem, then what about play with disabled children and their peers?
It is perfectly obvious that anyone who works with disabled children must either be a gorgon on some kind of sociopathic power-trip, or a tilty headed, soft–toy-voiced, pastel covered, sensible yet feminine footwearing, fairy tale heroine. She, (invariably), trips lightfooted from cute child to cute child followed by chipmonks and bluebirds, trilling happily, spreading joy, occasionally bending to put Dopey’s hat on properly and chuck his chin. (he blushes, natch.)
The work, it goes without saying, is ‘rewarding’. It is also ‘Good to be helping some-one less fortunate than yourself’. La la la la laaaaa…
Part of the rationale behind the creation of theinternationale site was to dispel these myths. But of course if you visit that site you already know that.
Preaching to the converted is easy.
There was a time when I truly thought that a change was coming and that disabled children would be able to play with their peers as a result of some sort of universal conversion to enlightenment that would be brought about by the DDA. But like the old joke about the number of psychiatrists required to change a light bulb, the light bulb has to want to change.
Maybe it is true that little funding has been directed towards the additional support required for playworkers to meet the needs of disabled children in their communities.
Perhaps there should have been greater gobbets of dosh available to make physical changes to sites.
Perhaps all the money available was spent on expensive consultancies to tell playworkers exactly how to play with children with disabilities.
All I see is services that are still, by and large, segregated. In fact some of the best known inclusive adventure playgrounds have, since the introduction of the DDA, reverted to segregated services.
What is needed?
An understanding that this work is not easy. It will not happen overnight because thousands of years of fear and prejudice cannot be tidied away at the snap of the fingers. Specialist equipment is probably the thing you will need to spend least money on. Playworkers at their finest are a resourceful bunch and will skip for materials, lots of loose parts, lots of fabrics especially lycra which holds a child onto a swing rather than the child having to hold on for themselves. Double sized swing seats to have kids sit together or a playworker sit and support a child. An informed and talented workforce, peer trained.
Fences fences fences. Despite current design vogues, the invisible in tangible hypothetical fence does not send out forehead slappingly clear signifiers to all children.
Playworkers who can grasp the concept that words are not the vocabulary that children are necessarily using. The First Language of all children is play
Most of all you need impeccable playwork practice and basic human warmth.