Together Through Play: Facilitating Inclusive Play Through Participatory Design

Holt, R. J.; Moore, A.-M. and Beckett, A. E. (2014). Together Through Play: Facilitating Inclusive Play Through Participatory Design. In: Inclusive Designing: Joining Usability, Accessibility, and Inclusion (Langdon, P.; Lazar, J.; Heylighen, A. and Dong, H. eds.), Springer, Cham, pp. 245–255.



Play has an important role in the development of physical and social skills of children (Piaget, 1929), and is recognised as a fundamental human right (cf Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child). Disabled children face many barriers to play, which can be due to accessibility, but also to social barriers that arise between disabled and non-disabled children (such as ableist assumptions or sensibilities held by non-disabled children) - which are exacerbated by the difficulties of playing together.

There is a growing move towards inclusive education, encouraging the inclusion of disabled children into mainstream schools, rather than being educated separately. To be truly inclusive, such education must fully involve disabled children in all aspects of school life, including being able to play socially with their peers (cf For play to be effective, it must be meaningful: it is not sufficient to have disabled and non-disabled children playing next to each other. They must be engaging in a way that is meaningful to both. If disabled children are denied the opportunity to engage meaningfully with others, they remain effectively excluded as well as being denied the opportunity to develop skills and exercise agency (Burke, 2012). This paper describes a participatory design project between Engineers and Sociologists at the University of Leeds that explores the aspirations of disabled and non-disabled children for playing together and barriers that prevent this. The project takes a co-operative enquiry approach (Druin, 1998), as a way of attaining a richer understanding of children's views. The aim is not to develop inclusive toys per se, but to use the toys designed and prototyped as critical objects to provide insight into children’s views. This paper reviews current literature on inclusive play, describes the participatory design process used, then reviews the initial findings from this process and reflects on our experiences, including the distinction between accessibility and inclusivity in play, the role of social barriers and how these can be addressed through the design of toys and games.

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