There are a number of considerations in designing a playground for children who are blind or visually impaired, including those who are deafblind or who have multiple disabilities. Some of this will depend on the climate and location of the playground, as well as the setting, size, etc.
1. Incorporate Tactile Elements
This is important for a number of reasons. Tactile elements will be helpful for Orientation and Mobility, that is for a child to find where they are on the playground. This can include tactile surfaces (like a rubberized mat with bumps) to indicate a location, such as the edge of the playground. It could also include interesting items to explore through touch.
2. Consider Safety Issues
- Mark the edge of steps, the slide, and other surfaces (platforms, etc.) with yellow, so that children with low vision will be aware of the change in surfaces.
- Consider putting a gate or some kind of safety mechanism at the top of a slide, especially if it is at the same height as a play surface.
- Consider putting a special texture underfoot at the edge of zones that may present hazards, such as swings or moving equipment. This will signal to children to be aware that equipment may be moving towards them.
3. Use Multi-Sensory Features
- Incorporate sound, such as through windchimes, a musical sidewalk, large xylophone, bells, etc.
- Consider the use of plantings that have interesting smells (lavendar, mint, roses).
- Consider the use of a water feature to explore.
- Add a sensory garden.
4. Include Accessibility Features for Children in Wheelchairs
- Think about Universal Design when creating the playground. In other words, how can ALL children be included? Many children who are blind or visually impaired have additional disabilities and are in wheelchairs.
- Include a wheelchair swing or moving bridge.
- Include window boxes/raised beds that are at wheelchair height.
5. Afix Items to Manipulate and Explore
Not everyone will want to go on the equipment, so it's important to have interesting things to explore.
- Items with latches, chains, knobs, bells, etc. can be fun to manipulate and can be sturdy enough to be outside, with heavy use.
- Create a tactile mosaic with different textures and surfaces, at all different heights.
There are a number of resources on developing playgrounds for children who are blind or visually impaired, including those who are deafblind or who have additional disabilities. Try looking at some of the following:
Creating a DIY Playground for Our Son Who Is Deafblind
This blog post was written by the mother of a young boy who has a combined vision and hearing loss. It includes tips for incorporating tactile elements, braille and more.
Center for Visually Impaired Add Playground as Teaching Tool
Accessible Playground Features, Chicago Parks