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Outdoor Play for Children with Visual Impairment: The FUNdamentals
By Beth Ramella, M.Ed., TVI/COMS

It is often said that play is a child's work, and it’s true, all kids learn essential skills through play. In addition to the physical benefits, research indicates that children who play outdoors demonstrate better visual motor integration, imagination and verbal and social skills.

Children, both visually impaired and sighted, learn from naturally occurring, sensory adventures such as splashing in a pond, popping bubbles or picking flowers. Playgrounds, a traditional childhood favorite for outdoor play, are also a great spot for children to build interpersonal relationships while running, swinging and developing the social concept of taking turns.

The campus of the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, features outdoor play spaces tailored for this meaningful type of learning. But unfortunately, most neighborhood playgrounds are not accessible for children with visual impairments.

There are many ways in which playground activities and equipment can be adapted for children with visual impairments. For a child who is visually impaired, choose a time when there are fewer children around and consider turning your trip to the playground into an obstacle course. Just as their sighted peers, children with visual impairments should be encouraged to develop physical strength, independence, motor skills and social interaction. Show your child how to climb, move and crawl over the equipment.

Some accessibility and safety features that benefit children who are blind or visually impaired include highlighting the edges, railings, steps or drop offs with a bright, contrasting color. Tactile or auditory maps are wonderful tools for those who are unable to read print materials. Warning tiles, sometimes called truncated domes, are tiles with bright color contrast and bumpy patterns that allow cane users to identify such spaces as the bottom of the slide, around the base of the swings, or an opening in a platform.

But even without a budget for a total playground transformation, there are other ways to make your outdoor play space more accommodating for kids with visual disabilities including:

  • Use equipment with bright and contrasting colors
  • Add auditory elements such as chimes, sound tubes or musical components
  • Provide tactile stimulation with things such as sand, water or large blocks

For more information, contact Beth Ramella, WPSBC Director of Outreach, at (412) 621-0100 or ramellab@wpsbc.org.

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