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The Matrix- classification and evaluation of inclusive play areas.

By Arbeitskreis Inklusion (Working Group on Inclusion: Lothar Köppel, Andreas Aschmann, Marc Bähring , Wolfgang Keiner, Jörg Prechter, Mandy Schönfeld, Peter Schraml, Ulrich Paulig, Svenja Thomsen)

© Arbeitskreis Inklusion

Everybody is currently talking about inclusion, because the aim is to allow social interaction in all areas of communal life, at schools, universities, at work, and on one's way to get there. However, the term "inclusion" means much more than the mere integration of "disadvantaged groups". According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, each individual should be enabled to fully participate in social and cultural life. In this context, however, the question arises on how to apply this idea to playground practice. Does this mean that all devices must be made available to and usable for every individual? And would this approach not lead to a reduction of valuable offerings, play value and challenges so that in the end all children might find that even playgrounds are becoming unattractive and boring?

However, both physical and mental restrictions are as various as life itself. Developing the relevant play equipment for each specific combination of skills would be like a battle of materials which, in addition, would not be feasible due to both aesthetic and financial reasons and due to the limited spatial resources. Furthermore this approach would not provide the desired result as similar projects implemented over the past few years have shown. 

We therefore need to redefine assumptions about how to achieve this objective of designing attractive, challenging and exciting new playgrounds. 

Thus the Working Group on Inclusion of NA Sport - NA 112-07-01 AA Spielplatzgeräte, which has intensively dealt with this issue for the past two years, has developed the following basic assumptions:


  • Offers for everybody:
     Not all individuals have to be able to do everything, but all of them must be provided with suitable offerings (which appeal to as many of users' senses as possible).
  • Skills of the users:
     We consider children / caretakers who are generally able to manage their everyday life by themselves.… Children / caretakers, who require assistance will be given support both on their way to the playground and also at the playground itself.
  • Same level of safety for all:
     Each user should be provided with challenges. In practical terms this means that injuries are accepted by everybody, that is to say by both persons with disabilities and those without disabilities - equal rights for all.


Thus the development of an appropriate evaluation system was based on a completely new approach. While up to now the design of devices has been focused on one specific disability, the new approach focuses on the diversity of potential experiences and on appealing to the different senses. Hence the result is a wide range of offerings which ensures at each playground the availability of devices for everybody by appealing to all possible senses and skills. If this goal is achieved, every user, regardless of whether with or without restrictions or disabilities, will be provided with their relevant play offerings and occasions to gain experience.

To be able to apply this evaluation system in a comprehensive manner to existing playgrounds or to make use of an instrument which reviews the completeness of criteria for the refurbishment of existing play areas, a simple and clear illustration was needed. To do so a type of comprehensive fingerprint should be generated when filling in the criteria which should improve the transparency about probably missing aspects. Hence the concept of the so-called "Matrix" was born.


The Matrix

An example of a completed matrix which shows the evaluation of an existing playground is enclosed below for better understanding. 

In the matrix all different areas are considered individually. The Working Group on Inclusion has defined these areas as being the fundamental conditions which can be subdivided into fundamental conditions focused on the accessibility to and arrangement of the playground. In addition, there are other fundamental conditions regarding the different play stations and individual play areas. Some of the fundamental conditions must necessarily be complied with. Others have to be fulfilled due to logical reasons whereas others are focused on the sum of the overall play offerings. Thus it is possible to provide an inclusive play area even though not all play devices correspond to all the criteria.


Fundamental conditions of a playground / play area

  • Barrier-free accessibility
  • Networking

Fundamental conditions of a play station / play area

  • Accessibility within the play station
  • Sensual experience
  • Movement experience
  • Social aspects


As experience shows that - in particular regarding existing playgrounds - not all missing aspects can be completed at one go, a three-level evaluation system was created. So, existing well-functioning approaches and concepts of former playground planning processes can be appreciated and also excellent playground concepts can be identified while at the same time future efforts can be duly rewarded. 

An important new criterion of the Matrix is the demand for different sensory impressions. Sensory impressions, such as acting, feeling, experiencing and processing as basic preconditions for living and learning. That is why the senses cannot be considered separately from each other. Not withstanding, however, offerings which specifically appeal to all individual senses in order to probably improve the relevant skills are a must. Thus the following senses are considered individually:


  • Hearing - sense of hearing - hearing related
  • Seeing - visual sense- visually
  • Feeling - skin senses - sensory
  • Touching (tactually) - tactile sense - tactile
  • Smelling - sense of smell / olfactory sense - olfactory
  • Tasting - sense of smell - gustatory perception
  • Balancing - balance - vestibular


To comply with the requirements of the matrix, specific offerings which appeal to the specific individual senses must be provided. The mere fact that a device needs to be touched or is arranged in a colourful way is not sufficient to fulfil the requirement of appealing to the senses such as touching or seeing. In this field further development is necessary. However, appealing to the senses through different surfaces and materials of a handrail, for instance, would contribute to a positive evaluation.

Apart from these sensory experiences also the following movement experiences are of importance and considered in the evaluation according to the Matrix system.


  • Coordination
  • Speed
  • Altitude experience


Here, in turn, the focus is on providing specific offerings which help to promote coordination or perceptual skills. The coordination skills, which means the collaboration of all senses, head, hands, feet and body for a targeted motion sequence can be measured by structures for climbing and skill games. The experience of speed can be promoted by devices such as merry-go-rounds, slides, cableways and other similar devices. Climbing devices and the relevant terrain modelling, however, are suitable for altitude experience. 

Indeed all social aspects are very essential aspects of inclusion. Thus, the following social aspects are considered individually when applying the matrix evaluation system:


  • Communication
  • Self-perception
  • Group games
  • Single playing
  • Possibilities of encounter


Here, too, it is the design which should promote these individual areas and stimulate interaction, communication and encounter. Thus, playing allows encounters between all users and their accompanying persons across all social and cultural boundaries. 



However, the reasonable fulfilment of the individual basic conditions, which must in no case be achieved in an arbitrary manner, certainly requires a high level of expertise and detailed knowledge. Hence, the Working Group on Inclusion has found many examples which show how the individual requirements could be fulfilled.  However, to explain these examples in detail would go far beyond the size of this feature. The important thing is that neither each station nor each individual play area of a playground will have to fulfil all requirements / fundamental conditions. Not everybody must be able to do everything. But everybody must be provided with offerings. It is the mixture and multitude of offerings which is decisive to provide every single individual with suitable offerings.

The evaluation and interaction of the single aspects is regulated by the evaluation system based on the aforementioned Matrix. However, in the following edition we will have a closer look at the evaluation system as well as at the fundamental conditions for barrier-free accessibility, networking and accessibility within the play station.



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