Designing public playgrounds for inclusion: Universal Design for Play (UDP), a tailored perspective

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Moore, Alice
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University College Cork
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To extend knowledge on how to enable outdoor play, social participation, and inclusion in public playgrounds, the overall aim of this thesis is to establish an evidence base for using Universal Design (UD) for public playground design. The scope of this doctoral research encompassed a multi-layered approach to understanding this complex concept of UD from a higher conceptual level as well as an applied level. It includes five studies that employed multiple methods to review published and grey literature as well as explore the perspectives of “professional experts” and “user experts”. Study I included a review of evidence for using UD in public playground design. Specifically, a scoping review of peer reviewed literature was undertaken to identify and synthesise what is known from published, peer reviewed studies about inclusive public playgrounds, underpinned by a commitment to understanding the concept of UD as it applies specifically to public playground design. Findings show that although UD is recognised to have the potential to support the design of public playgrounds, the evidence is currently very sparse and identified the gap in knowledge internationally of how UD is understood as a concept. Study II included a review of the conceptual understanding of UD in public playground design. Indeed, this consisted of a scoping review to determine how UD and related non-discriminatory planning and design concepts are represented in the context of published research exploring public playground design for inclusion. Findings revealed that that the terms UD, inclusive design, accessibility, and usability are all being used to describe non-discriminatory planning and design processes arbitrarily and without regard for higher or lower order concepts, which has potentially led to inconsistency and confusion. Altogether, diverse interpretations of UD were evident; for some UD was understood as a basic concept resulting in accessibility, for others, UD was more holistic in terms of designing for inclusion. In Study III, scoping review search methods were developed and applied to synthesise findings from a review of international grey literature guidelines for the design of public playgrounds for inclusion and sought to determine the evidence for using UD and play value in public playground design. Findings highlighted that although UD is recognised to have the potential to support the design of public playgrounds, inconsistent design approaches, principles, and recommendations, were communicated among the included guideline documents. However, the core concept of inclusion underpinned all guideline documents, and a tailored application of UD dominated. Study IV involved survey methods to determine the ways in which UD is understood and implemented, when planning, designing, and/or providing public playgrounds, from the perspectives of a national sample of playground professionals in the Republic of Ireland. The findings show that playground professionals recognise the importance of UD and implement UD in various ways. However, significant barriers to implementing UD included a lack of knowledge and good practice guides for embedding UD. To counteract these barriers, a variety of opportunities, initiatives and training prospects were identified. In Study V, a qualitative descriptive study sought to explore the experiences of using playgrounds, as well as the reasons for non-use, from child and adult perspectives, through the lens of play and play value to inform UD. Findings emphasised that although children and adults value playgrounds as spaces for outdoor play, social participation, and inclusion, playgrounds are not always useable, and do not always meet the needs of families. Participants in this study confirmed that there are variable standards when it comes to playground provision, and some facilities lack essential elements for outdoor play, social participation, and inclusion. Nevertheless, participants offered many creative ideas to improve the usability of playgrounds, and therefore, identified potentially practical ways of implementing UD in playground design for inclusion (Chapter Seven). In conclusion, this doctoral research contributes with an evidence base for using UD for public playground design both at a conceptual and an applied level. It challenges the current UD concept and argues for further conceptual refinement to consolidate the importance and future application of UD for Play (UDP) in the design of public playgrounds that promote outdoor play, social participation, and inclusion. Moving forward the challenge is to promote the universal establishment of inclusive public playgrounds that offer high play value and include all persons in everyday occupations without injustice.
Play , Play occupation , Outdoor play , Playground , Social participation , Inclusion , Social justice , Universal Design , Universal Design for Play , Playground professional , Professional expert , User experts , User experience; , Human rights , Person Environment Occupation model
Moore, A. 2022. Designing public playgrounds for inclusion: Universal Design for Play (UDP), a tailored perspective. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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