Making play accessible

The new Bradlee Park playground at Perkins School for the Blind provides a fun and safe environment for every child

Students climb on the new play structure at Bradlee Park.

Perkins Deafblind Program student Osamh (center) and Lower School student Isabella (right) tested their balance at the new playground at Perkins School for the Blind. Photo credit: Anna Miller.

July 22, 2015

A brand-new playground at Perkins School for the Blind is a model of accessibility, with features for kids of all ages and abilities to discover, enjoy and share with friends.

Located at the center of campus, the Bradlee Park playground officially opened in mid-July, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for teachers, staff and students. Since then, Perkins students have been busy exploring the playground, including the centerpiece wheelchair-accessible play structure, which includes a climbing wall, slides and a bridge. Surrounding it are a swing set, a carousel and musical instruments. 

“It’s a very special place for all our students at Perkins,” said Kathy Heydt, assistant education director of the Lower School and Early Learning Center. “There’s a little something for everyone here.”

Building an accessible playground requires more than just handicapped ramps. Below are six features of the new Bradlee Park playground that make it accessible to kids with a wide range of disabilities.

  1. Color contrast: The playground’s main play structure is painted in vivid shades of yellow, blue and red, which contrast with the tan and black surface surrounding it. The muted surface colors also contrast with the green grass growing nearby. These sharp color distinctions allow students with limited vision to locate and use the play structure more independently.
  2. Texture: The playground’s rubberized surface is a dramatically different texture from the cement sidewalk and grassy field surrounding it, helping students who are blind or visually impaired to orient themselves as they approach or exit the playground. The soft surface also minimizes the chance of injury.
  3. Variety of sensory inputs: Three large vertical xylophones – known as Wee Notes – give students a chance to create music on their own or with friends. The instruments are strategically located between the play structure, swing set and carousel, making them the perfect audible landmark for students to use when orienting themselves or traveling from one play area to the next.
  4. Wheelchair accessibility: The Bradlee Park playground’s main play structure is wheelchair accessible, but that’s not all. After utilizing a ramp to gain access to the different levels, students can play with a variety of accessible puzzles and games built into the structure’s walls. Nearby, a ground-level carousel has space for kids in wheelchairs to ride at the same time as their more mobile peers.
  5. Space for unstructured play: In addition to the playground, Bradlee Park has an accessible area with seating where students can hang out, play a game of T-ball or listen to a story. Learning how to engage in unstructured play is important for students who are blind, since they don’t pick it up through sight.
  6. Incorporate physical challenges: Exercise is crucial for students with disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs. The Bradlee Park play structure includes several games that require students to reach for a lever or handle, helping them develop important upper body strength. For more mobile students, a climbing wall and other features help them test their balance and build cardiovascular endurance.

Bradlee Park was made possible by generous donations and in-kind gifts from multiple individuals and project partners, including the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., Nelm Corp. and Valley Crest.

Making play accessible infographic

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