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Inclusive Playgrounds: Insights Into Play and Inclusion From the Perspectives of Users and Providers

Publicerad:21 november

Ines Wenger har forskat om inkluderande lekplatser. Dels utifrån barns perspektiv, både de med och utan funktionshinder, dels vårdnadshavare, lekplatsleverantörer och experter på universell design.

Författare

Ines Wenger

Handledare

Maria Prellwitz, Luleå tekniska universitet Christina Schulze, Zurich University Helen Lynch, University College Cork

Opponent

Docent Märit Jansson, Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet

Disputerat vid

Luleå tekniska universitet

Disputationsdag

2023-11-24

Abstract in English

Play for play’s sake is an important part of a child’s life. In this sense, play is also enshrined as a child’s right and is understood from an occupational therapy and occupational science perspective as a central occupation in children’s lives. Children report that outdoor environments, such as playgrounds, are some of their favourite places to play. However, studies also show that children’s experiences of play occupation in playgrounds, especially for children with disabilities, can be limited by barriers related to the physical, social, and political environment. To address these barriers, so called inclusive playgrounds have been developed and implemented with the aim of providing play and social experiences for all children to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion.

Inclusive playgrounds could therefore be considered places created by playground providers for children where situational elements of the physical, social, and political environment converge with children’s play occupation. The Transactional Model of Occupation (TMO) was chosen as the theoretical underpinning of the thesis with the aim of providing a framework for interpreting the perspectives of playground users and playground providers in relation to the intertwined nature of the situational elements from an occupational and child-centred perspective. Furthermore, the TMO was found to be useful in integrating other concepts related to inclusive playgrounds and their transactions with situational elements, such as play value, affordances, place-making, inclusion and Universal Design (UD).

The overall aim of the thesis was to gain a deeper understanding on play and inclusion on inclusive playgrounds from the perspectives of playground users (children with and without disabilities and advocates of children with disabilities), and playground providers (including experts in Universal Design).

The thesis was informed by four studies, whereby study I and study III looked at the children’s perspectives, study II at the perspectives of playground providers and advocates of children with disabilities, and study IV at the perspectives of experts in UD. Study I explored the experiences of children with (n=18) and children without (n=14) disabilities of playing on inclusive playgrounds through the use of interviews and observations. Data was analyzed using qualitative content analysis. Study III aimed to expand knowledge from a child-centred perspective of how environmental characteristics influence play value and inclusion for all children in outdoor playgrounds. The study was conducted as a meta-ethnography and included 17 studies. Study II explored the design and use of inclusive playgrounds with a particular focus on how design supports or hinders inclusion from the perspective of people involved in designing (n=14) or advocating for children with disabilities (n=12). Data were collected with focus groups and analyzed with thematic analysis. Study IV aimed to advance the understanding and use of UD in inclusive playground provision by identifying experts (n=6) strategies and experiences of applying UD in playgrounds. Data were collected with expert interviews using a go-along method of walk and talk interviews and analyzed with qualitative content analysis.

The synthesis of the findings provided insights into children’s experience of participation in play occupation and play value on inclusive playgrounds; into how play value emerges from transactions of the situational elements; and into what UD adds to playground design to create a welcoming atmosphere and make playgrounds inclusive.

Children’s experiences of play value were found to emerge from transactions of the play occupation and the physical and the social environmental elements, and sociocultural, and geopolitical elements, and leading to a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging was found to be associated with inclusion from the perspective of children and advocates of children with disabilities, as well as from the perspective of experts in UD. Thus, children’s perspectives on play value and participation in play occupation were found to contribute to an understanding of what makes a playground inclusive from a children’s perspective. Furthermore, findings suggest that UD might be a useful approach for to design for inclusion in playgrounds, because it was found that for the UD experts, the social environmental elements and the sociocultural and geopolitical elements were at the beginning of the design process and guided the design of the physical environmental elements accordingly. This focus is also reflected in four strategies identified from the synthesis of the findings for designing playgrounds to promote a sense of belonging. To further explore play occupation and inclusion in playgrounds perspectives that look at communities rather than individuals, such as communal or collective occupations, may be useful to focus on the social aspects.

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