Exploring Social & Sensory Barriers That Impede Play in Public Spaces

Chad Kennedy, ASLA, speaking at TEDx Modesto / image: TEDx

TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading,” has popularized short, engaging talks from thought leaders since its founding in 1984 as a conference on Technology, Entertainment and Design. Since then, TED has expanded with the TEDx program to support local, independently organized events that bring communities together to share ideas and spark conversation.

TED speakers have included Walter Hood, ASLA, Kate Orff, ASLA, Janette Sadik-Kahn, Honorary ASLA, and Jeff Speck, Honorary ASLA. This past September, Chad Kennedy, ASLA, P.L.A., CPSI, LEED® AP BD+C, joined the TED speaker cohort at TEDxModesto, which combined TED Talks videos and live presentations by local thinkers and doers on the theme “What makes your life more colorful?”

Chad is Principal Landscape Architect at O’Dell Engineering, and he is also serving as Chair of ASLA’s Professional Practice Network (PPN) Council this year, after serving as co-chair and officer for the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN. Chad is an advocate for and designer of recreational spaces that are created specifically to enrich the lives of all those who visit them. (See “Processing Through Play,” from the June 2018 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, for more on Chad’s focus on play spaces for children with sensory disorders.)

Chad’s TEDx talk began with a history of Central Park, which, at the time it opened, was a revolutionary public space that encouraged citizens to recreate, relax, and escape urban life, regardless of their economic status, age, occupation, ethnicity, or gender. However, as far as we have come in the 161 years since Central Park opened, there is still a long way to go in designing spaces that are equitable and fair to all. This gap is particularly striking with respect to people with disabilities, individuals on the autism spectrum, and those with sensory processing disorders. Many disabilities impact individuals’ lives to the point where they are unable to enjoy basic activities, such as visiting a local park. In addition, care takers, spouses, siblings, parents, extended family members, and friends of these individuals are often unable to enjoy parks and playgrounds, as they are too busy providing care.

Images from Chad’s TEDx Modesto talk

The good news is, these barriers to access and play can be removed. Through social inclusion and sensory integration, we can get families and friends playing together and becoming healthier. Chad works tirelessly to create spaces that do just this. One of those spaces is the planned Awesome Spot Playground at Beyer Park in Modesto. Since 2015, community advocates including Rachel Loredo, a mother of a child with physical disabilities; Kelly Gloria, a Clinical Director with the Central Valley Autism Project; the City of Modesto; local design professionals; and others have been developing this playground as a socially inclusive and sensory integrated play environment unlike any other.

Chad’s full TEDxModesto talk is viewable on YouTube:

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