Every body can play! Easy ways to say “yes!” to kids with disabilities

Whether they meet at the playground or on the soccer field, kids exude joy when they play together. But for many families that include a child with a disability, this simple joy can be hard to reach. From inaccessible playgrounds to sports programs that say they can’t accommodate kids with physical differences, there are many ways that programs exclude or overlook kids with disabilities and their families. These families are experts in navigating the challenges of accessibility and inclusion. As we strive to make sure that every child has what they need to grow up happy and healthy, seeing the world through their perspective is a critical skill.

That’s why we partnered with Seattle Children’s PlayGarden to apply their expertise to help organizations throughout King County understand disability and feel empowered to say “yes!” to kids with disabilities. Through our partnership, the PlayGarden produced Say “Yes!”to Kids with Disabilities: Stories and Strategies for Including ALL Kids, a toolkit based on listening sessions with kids with disabilities, their families, and youth-serving organizations in our communities.

Photo credit: Seattle Children’s PlayGarden.

The toolkit guides readers through strategies to dismantle disability stigma, break down barriers, and fully include all kids. The message is simple: you don’t have to be an expert on disability, you just have to be open and willing to try. To get started, here are a few easy ways to start saying “yes!” to kids with disabilities.

1. Just say “hi!”

For many families that include a child with a disability, the biggest barrier to enjoying parks, playgrounds, or activities is feeling unwelcome, ignored, or excluded from play. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this. Just say, “Hi!” Model for children how to make friends or be welcoming and find a common interest. For example, if a child asks, “Why can’t he talk/ walk, etc.” Respond: “I don’t know, yet. Let’s meet him/her/them and we can learn about each other. I see he’s digging. Do you want to dig, too?”

Photo credit: Seattle Children’s PlayGarden.

2. Listen to kids, parents, and caregivers

Parents want to set their kids up for success and have a lot of wisdom to share with teachers, coaches, and instructors about what their child needs to do their best. Let parents know you want to be a partner in creating an inclusive environment for their child. Keep lines of communication open and make it easy for parents or kids themselves to share information with you.

3. Be flexible and willing to bend the rules

Many commonplace policies and rules present barriers to families and children with a disability. For example, while no one likes waiting in line, for some kids it is practically impossible. Making changes to procedures and policies so that all kids can enjoy themselves doesn’t have to be hard, and you don’t have to do it alone! Show families that you’re flexible and willing to meet them where they are, and they’ll show you what they need from you to be successful.

4. Model inclusion at group games and activities

Group games and activities are staples of daily life for school age kids. They create opportunities for kids to be silly, move their bodies, get exercise, and make new friends. Circle times, group games, and art activities are often adult-directed activities, where adults have the opportunity to model inclusive language and behavior. Start with the positive assumption that all kids want to and are able to participate, then adapt to meet the unique needs of each child. When you make group games inclusive for all kids, you not only create a better experience during that game, you lay the foundation for inclusion and empower kids to play together.

Photo credit: Seattle Children’s PlayGarden.

Ready to join us in saying yes to kids with disabilities? Download the full PlayGarden toolkit here. You’ll find more strategies and tools to empower yourself to take the necessary steps to make your organization more welcoming for all kids

If you’re interested in further training or resources to make your program more inclusive, contact Seattle Children’s PlayGarden’s Inclusive Programs Director, Hannah Gallagher at hannah@childrensplaygarden.org

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