Playgrounds for Hearing Impaired Children
If you are thinking about updating a playground for your school, park, church or community center, it is a good idea to consider the needs of kids who are hearing impaired. Those with cochlear implants and hearing impairments have unique needs at the playground that should inform inclusive playground design.
Hearing-impaired playground design should take into account these special needs and allow for fun and enjoyment for all kids. It is estimated that almost 15% of kids have at least some level of hearing loss, and it is important to provide inclusive playgrounds for these kids to have fun alongside their peers. Here is crucial information to know about planning a hearing-impaired playground that is inclusive to everyone.
What Are Cochlear Implants?
For many people with hearing impairments, hearing aids may not provide enough support. When hearing aids are not enough, or in cases of more extreme or profound hearing loss, cochlear implants (CI) may be an option. These medical devices use a surgically implanted receiver and an external transmitter with a microphone to help restore a better level of hearing. The receiver is implanted into the inner ear where it can directly stimulate the hearing nerve. It can greatly improve the hearing ability, but the sound quality is different from natural hearing.
Getting cochlear implants is an outpatient surgical procedure, with follow-up appointments a few weeks after surgery to activate the devices. An audiologist and other therapists work with the child, teaching them how to use the devices, ensuring the implant is functioning properly and checking that it is at the best settings for that individual. As the child learns about the CI and continues with their therapies, the functionality of the devices and the hearing quality should continue to improve for about a year after the procedure.
Playground Design Considerations for Kids With Impaired Hearing
Playgrounds should be accessible and inclusive to kids of all abilities. When people think about inclusive playgrounds, often the first thought is making areas accessible for kids with wheelchairs or walkers. A truly inclusive playground should also take into consideration kids with hearing impairments so they can have the same types of fun playtime as other kids at the playground.
Designing a playground that includes kids with impaired hearing takes some unique considerations to ensure they have an engaging and fun experience. To make the best use of these playground planning tips, include kids with impaired hearing and adults on your planning committee if possible. They can provide valuable insight into how you can incorporate more inclusive designs for your specific playground site. They may also come up with considerations you may not have thought of otherwise.
Here are the most important things to consider for hearing-impaired inclusive playgrounds:
1. Plastic Slides
One of the most important things to think about in playground design for kids with impaired hearing is a factor many people would not know is an issue. While large, molded plastic slides have become the standard for many new playgrounds today, they can pose a problem for kids with cochlear implants. When a child goes down a plastic slide, quite a bit of static electricity builds up — and static and cochlear implants are not a good combination. A large amount of static has the ability to disrupt the functioning of a cochlear implant.
If a child with a CI wants to use a plastic slide, they either need to remove their transmitter and play in silence or risk a disruption that will later need to be fixed by an audiologist. This means they would live in silence until they can meet with a professional. There is no pain or discomfort, but the device may stop working until it can be recalibrated.
In terms of playground design, the best way to avoid this issue is to use alternates to plastic slides. Metal slides made from aluminum or stainless steel are a good option to protect kids with cochlear implants. The material used for the slides has no difference in terms of vestibular stimulation, balance practice and working the core muscles, but the metal slides do not interfere with the cochlear devices.
2. Communication Walls
On the playground, noise and chaos can prevent clear lines of communication. That is why it is important to have organized means of communication available for kids with hearing impairment. A chalkboard or dry erase marker board on the playground gives more opportunities for communicating with kids who are hearing impaired.
3. Balance Equipment
Because balance is related to the inner ear, many kids with hearing issues also have issues with balance. A good playground design should include several elements for kids to work on their balance skills. This can include a painted hopscotch game on the pavement, balance bars, moving bridges or stepping stones to walk across. All these popular playground components help kids develop their sense of balance while having fun.
4. Background Noise
Excess background noise, whether from nearby traffic or lots of shouting and talking from other kids, can be extremely distracting to kids with hearing impairments. While it is impossible to take background noise away completely, there are a few things you can do to soften the distracting noises. Plant large trees surrounding the playground or use fences and other strategic landscaping, especially if heavy traffic is nearby. You can also use softer, sound-absorbing surfacing to help reduce noise on the playground.
5. Sensory Play
Sensory play helps the vestibular system and develops the other senses, which is especially important for kids who have hearing impairments. This can include sandboxes, sand and water tables, tactile surfaces and musical elements — just be sure the placement is such that the vibrations can be felt in addition to being heard.
6. Visual Systems
For schools, daycares and other locations where schedules may be a concern, some form of visual cues for the end of recess, emergencies or other needed signals are a good idea. Use colored flags or another indicator to let kids know recess is over, because kids with hearing impairment may not hear a bell.
Learn More About Inclusive Play
Playgrounds should be accessible and inclusive to all types of kids, including those with different hearing abilities. As mentioned, kids with cochlear implants on playgrounds have special considerations to take into account during the planning process.
At Miracle Recreation®, we recognize the varied needs of kids of all abilities. We are proud to offer many types of ADA-compliant playground equipment to make sure everyone feels included at your playground and no one is left out. Contact us today to learn how Miracle Recreation can help you create thrilling, innovative playgrounds that are accessible to everyone.