Rolling Kidz - Surfaces
This article is the second in a series that will examine how to accommodate children with physical disabilities in the classroom and schooling environment.
This month we will look at the importance of suitable surfaces in the classroom, passages and overall school environment, including the playground, so that children with mobility impairments can move around safely and independently.
Some floor surfaces can make moving around independently difficult. In general floor surfaces should be firm, slip-resistant and stable. If they are soft or uneven they canbe very difficult for a child using a mobility device such as a wheelchair to manoeuvre around independently.
We need to ensure that floors in classrooms are suitable for children using wheelchairs, walkers, crutches etc. Make sure that the spaces between desks are clear and free from clutter such as children's bags, books and boxes. Toys, chairs and play equipment can be difficult to manoeuvre around. Rather allocate a space in the classroom for toys and bags, than have them lying around the floor, as they can become a tripping hazard. In addition, watch out for objects that protrude from walls such as hooks. You may want to include a shelf or "pigeon holes" at the correct height to store bags so that all children can have access to them, including those using wheelchairs.
You need to ensure that, if you have carpets in your classroom, they are not loose (children cantrip). Also, they should not interfere with movement and must not be too thick or have tassels that children`s mobility devices could hook on. Tiles, wood or cement floor surfaces may be more suitable. If you use tiles, ensure that the grouting between tiles is filled to the same level as the tiles in order to prevent ridges.
Passages and Walkways
Floors need to be non-slip and not too smooth, eg. wax polished, as the children may slip and fall, including those who wear callipers.
The floor surface must be level without steps. If there are ramps you need to ensure that they are at the correct gradient (1:17-1:20) and have handrails on both sides so that children cannot slip off. Ramps must also have a non-slip surface.
The passages and walkways need to be wide enough so that children can move freely and free from clutter and obstructions. While tiles may be suitable for a classroom floor they should not be used for areas that slope as tiled slopes do not have the traction required. In addition, tiles become very slippery when wet and children could injure themselves. This is also true for other areas such as bathrooms and toilets.
It is crucial that all children are able to access and enjoy play areas. While gravel, wood-chips, sand and spaced paving slabs may look pretty, they are potentially dangerous for children with mobility problems. It is very difficult to manoeuvre a child using a wheelchair through these types of surfaces as their wheels dig in and the child can fall out. Children making use of mobility devices, such as walkers, may trip on the uneven surfaces.
Concrete or tarred surfaces may be better. Whilst these surfaces may not look pretty, you can get the children to paint pictures on the surfaces, or you can paint games andactivities which all children can enjoy on them instead. Having rubber mats or sand underneath play equipment such as swings and jungle-gyms is important as children may slip and fall.