On the 18th of April 2018, our team at EAP were invited to a workshop held jointly by Sime Darby Property and UNICEF to discuss the designing of the future UNICEF Inclusive Playground Initiative. This playground is envisioned to be the first of its kind in Malaysia, and would be based in the City of Elmina, Shah Alam. The playground would not only be aimed at catering to as many children as possible across a range of physical and mental health needs, but is also intended to act as a beacon of practice which UNICEF will use as a platform to advocate for its adoption by other property developers. In order to achieve this aim, the organisers reached out to a wide spectrum of service users and professionals across various physical and mental health fields to get their perspective.
Our team of supervisors were invited to share their knowledge of autism and how it could be incorporated into the design of the playground. One of the activities in the workshop included the team being provided with a range of colourful materials (e.g. playdoh, coloured sticks, wooden blocks) to design playground models they felt would benefit children with autism.
Some of the ideas our team came up with included dividing the playground into sections that would target a range of play skills for kids with autism. This included a pretend play station, an independent play station and a sensory play corner. The variety of plays offered would be important in catering to the different children on the spectrum while simultaneously expanding their interests.
A snacktime area was also proposed, with the aim of encouraging social interaction between children, such as through sharing food and engaging in conversation. Teepee tents were also suggested that would allow kids to take a break and have some quiet time to themselves if the environment felt too overwhelming. Finally, they suggested the idea of Community Rangers who would monitor the activity on the playground, but also provide support to the children on how to play nicely and be kind to others.
The team also had the support and expertise of Mary Jeavons, Director of Jeavons Landscape Architects in Australia, who specialises in the planning and designing of spaces with intention of making them accessible to children and adults with a variety of needs and disabilities.
Once the playground is completed, parents who took part in the workshop will have the opportunity to experience the playground firsthand before it is officially launched to the public. UNICEF will continue to work with Sime Darby to develop standard guidelines in the hopes of implementing a standard policy for all developers to build inclusive playgrounds in any new housing area.
At the end of the day, it was a step forward for professionals from different areas and backgrounds to come together on an event like this to develop a playground that would benefit children across all needs and disabilities.
It was our honour and privilege to have been invited to participate in this initiative, and we are looking forward to new partnerships in the future!