If you are visually impaired or blind, are you able to enjoy a public playground?  If you are parent or caregiver for someone who is visually impaired or blind, do you typically have positive experience at a playground?

With an overarching goal of meeting the play needs of everyone and everyBODY in a community, Magical Bridge Foundation is passionate about innovating play for the Visually Impaired (VI). As we’ve learned over 10 years of working with inclusion experts and those living with cognitive and physical disabilities, the VI community usually is forgotten, or at best, an afterthought when designing public play spaces. The accommodation requirements for public spaces for people with disabilities mandated by American Disabilities Act (ADA) are woefully lacking sufficient guidelines and standards for the VI community. Unfortunately, most playgrounds in the United States only meet the minimum requirements of the ADA, which means that all too often persons with VI will have difficulty in navigating public playgrounds and with using the equipment safely.

Through focus groups and active engagement with VI children and adults, we are (literally) laser focused on improving public playgrounds and experiences for this forgotten group. While we are committed to continuing to explore new ideas, our next Magical Bridge playgrounds will ensure that when VI guests visit Magical Bridge Playgrounds,  they will:

  1. Have an easy time orienting and navigating the entire space and enjoy the predictability of the layout.
  2. Enjoy knowing that all paths of travel are gentle smooth paths, with a change in texture to denote new play zones
  3. Experience an exciting new system developed through our research which further deepens wayfaring by a perimeter fence which provides additional information for those with limited sight.
  4. Receive information through a custom tactile system, through Braille writing or by way of an auditory mechanism. This way, all guests can learn about the playground and its equipment in a way most meaningful to them.
  5. Feel safe and have fun – just like everyone else!   

 

Through mindful and universal design, Magical Bridge already far surpasses ADA standards for public playgrounds.  However, we knew we had to do better for our new Silicon Valley projects in Redwood City, Sunnyvale, Morgan Hill (and beyond).

Over the summer in 2017, a group of interns (some with VI and others sighted) launched the “Visual Magic” project at Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto. The objective of the project was to explore how to make future Magical Bridge Playgrounds more accessible and engaging for visitors with VI.

Led by Jay Gluckman, a Magical Bridge community member and Silicon Valley STEM educator who is passionate about accessibility for the VI community,  the Visual Magic Team members included:

  • Nikki:  high school sophomore at Mills High School, who has been blind since birth and is an avid Braille user.  
  • Justin: holds a Masters Degree in Special Education from San Francisco State University, and has a visual impairment but can read large text.  
  • Vyomika:  high school sophomore at Palo Alto High School, and lab manager for the PALY Robotics Team.
  • Tyler: high school sophomore at Homestead High School and avid club soccer player for the San Jose Earthquakes U17 team.  Tyler  is passionate about algebra and plans to  become a lawyer.
  • Jack: eighth grade at Sunnyvale Middle School and club soccer player for the San Jose Earthquakes DBA team.  Jack loves math and aspires to be a scientist.

The team worked throughout the summer to develop ways that  a Magical Bridge Playground could best meet the diversity of needs within the VI community.  The initial challenge in designing wayfinding for the VI community was how to accommodate the diversity of “information consumption preferences.” Although some people with VI are Braille users, others read large print,  while some prefer text-to-speech technology and prerecorded audio content.  We further identified that some adults and many children with VI can’t read at all.   The second challenge was to create a prototype navigation system for future Magical Bridge Playground zones, and consider how to label play structures and equipment. When VI visitors enter a public playground, there is typically no predictability of what lies ahead which makes navigation almost impossible, even for those relying on a sensing cane.

After months of prototyping and running usability tests on and off the playground, Team Visual Magic is excited that the wayfaring tools they developed have been  green-lighted for future Magical Bridge Playgrounds. Some examples of this work include:

  • A large, tactile map of the entire play space to be located at the main entrance of all future Magical Bridge Playgrounds. This will allow for a VI or blind person to virtually “tour” the playground with their fingers. Such a map empowers the park visitor to build a mental picture of the entire space and enjoy it with greater confidence.  *pictured below is the prototype created by Team Visual Magic as a proof-of-concept for tactile wayfaring using a 3d map.
  • Each of the seven play zones will have an enhanced Zone Monument which will serve as an information kiosk to present detailed information about the specific items featured in that particular zone.  The recommended Zone Monument VI accessible features include:
    • Large print letters and Braille
    • Links to web pages containing written descriptions of the play equipment tailored for those with VI,  including formatting optimized for screen readers. Written descriptions will be provided in multiple languages
    • QR codes linked to online content, placed at the entry point of each zone.
    • YouTube video content about Magical Bridge Playgrounds created specifically for VI visitors.
    • Since some playground users who have VI might have other challenges, a simplified tactile sculpture will be presented on each Zone Monument.  The sculpture will capture the concept of the kind of play components one will find in each play zone.  *pictured below is a prototype created by Team Visual Magic of VI accessible labeling of a play feature.  

 

  • Placement of tactile direction arrows with compass headings (North-South-East-West) throughout the park to aid with orientation in the playground using cardinal directions.  *picture below is a prototype created by Team Visual Magic.  

These enhancements and features will be incorporated into the designs of Magical Bridge Playgrounds in Redwood City, Sunnyvale and Morgan Hill.  Our team is passionate about  continuing with our work to innovate and improve play experiences for the VI community.  

We enthusiastically welcome, and appreciate,  your suggestions and feedback to ensure that Magical Bridge continues to be a truly magical place for everybody! Kindly contact Jay Gluckman at jay@innovation4youth.com with your comments and questions.

*******************************