As a child, I had to sit on the sidelines as my friends played on neighborhood playgrounds that were not designed for wheelchair users. In those days, it probably never crossed the minds of playground designers that children like me were excluded. We were excluded, and more importantly, the problem continues for millions of children today.
The "right to play" is a universal human right enumerated in Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to play is the right to rest and leisure, and with it the right to engage in recreational activities. It is important to recognize that play environments often do not sufficiently take people with disabilities into consideration in their design. The onus is often on parents to push for inclusive play.
I was therefore pleased to speak at the OCAD University in Toronto, Canada, on January 19 as part of the Faculty of Design speaker series. My talk, "Changing Society: The Power of Inclusive Thinking" was presented in conjunction with the Faculty of Design's annual Design Competition, which brings together interdisciplinary teams of students who must present innovative solutions to real-world design challenges. My remarks focused on the importance of the designer in the progress toward social inclusion -- and equality.
Drawing from personal experience, I spoke about fighting for my own right to inclusion, both as a child and an adult. It's not just about ensuring that design takes into account the needs of children. The right to rest and leisure is important to people throughout their lifetime. It is equally important to those who acquire disabilities later in life as to people with disabilities who are aging. Facilitating enjoyment of the right to rest and leisure by persons with disabilities should be seen less as a reasonable accommodation and more as an aspect of universal design.
It's not just about accessibility to physical play spaces. It is also important that play spaces people access through technology, like video games or computer-based word games, be accessible to all. As the world moves toward knowledge-based economies and technological skills put people at an advantage for employment, the development of inclusive technologies for play, learning, and work is essential. Technology also empowers communities. If large swaths of the disability community -- who are often poor and less educated -- do not have access to technology, they have less capacity to advocate for themselves and to contribute as members of civil society.
As countries move forward to address inclusion, it is essential to look at the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in turn to adopt uniform policies that have strong standards applied widely. There should be a holistic approach to avoiding and removing barriers to the enjoyment of this right and others.
Just as I encouraged participants to consult with people with disabilities to understand their needs, I encourage government leaders, architects, and members of civil society to do the same. As we continue to work toward more inclusive societies, we must pay attention to what societies need to ensure equal enjoyment of the right to play by children, youths, and adults with disabilities, especially in the area of technology. People with disabilities should always be consulted as the end users of such designs. Remember, "Nothing about Us without Us."
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