Opportunities for equality

24th June 2005 at 01:00
A new primary pack aims to promote thinking about inclusive design, as Carolyn O'Grady explains

"Why should we design playground equipment so that people with disabilities can use them?" asks teacher Rod Parvess, at Brambletye Junior School, in Redhill, Surrey. "Because it's not fair to let just us play", an able-bodied pupil replies.

It's the kind of response which instigators of a new pack of materials on inclusive design hoped for. Called Designing Everyone In, the pack contains worksheets, a PowerPoint presentation to trigger discussions, and certificates for children who complete the projects. The pack will be sent to all primary schools this term.

The aim is to encourage children to think about inclusive design in a fun way and be more aware of the needs of the disabled. Its creators considered producing materials for secondary schools but decided that catching pupils at a more formative age would have a more lasting impact. A spokesperson for the Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) which instigated the project, says: "It is vital that tomorrow's engineers, designers, architects, planners... have a full understanding of the need for an inclusive environment - especially as the Disability Discrimination Act will increasingly provide disabled people with access rights. If we can start with easy ways for children to consider these issues, this will be a valuable beginning."

"The idea is that teachers can incorporate these materials into what they are already doing," says Louise Davies, former DT subject adviser at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and author of the materials. Four existing DfESQCA themes - the home, the playground, the fairground and shelters - are covered in the new materials. The units could also be used in special schools, where "children often feel excluded by normal 'playground' educational materials because they show regular apparatus rather than items which are designed for them," she says.

Rod Parvess used the playground module with his Year 5 class, and has seen changes in the way his pupils think about design. In the second lesson using the new materials, a discussion on how disabled people can be "designed in" ranged over friends and relatives with special needs, the need for independence and adapted cars, and focused on pictures comparing standard playground apparatus with items designed for people with special needs.

Pupils then settled down to draw and make a model, using straws, cardboard and glue. "Keep in mind five questions," says Rod: "Who are you making it for? Will they be able to use it? Will it be fun? Will it be safe? and Do you think they will like it?" It's a session of intense activity with a lot of thinking and problem solving going on. Rod encourages the children to articulate their ideas more clearly, and deepen their understanding.

Greg Foxwell, a teacher at St Agnes School in Cornwall, has used the unit on shelters with his Year 3 pupils, focusing particularly on the slideshow and the design-and-make activities - "you can choose what you want from the materials".

The slideshow included a sequence showing life from the perspective of a blind woman, who is shown living a normal life with her blind husband and seeing children. Children were then asked to consider what she might find difficult and how life could be made easier for her, and to design a shelter with her in mind.

Worksheets asked children to go on a shelter trail in their community, and produce their own design for a shelter. Their designs included one with curly attachments on either side which visually impaired people could feel and another had sparkling pieces sprinkled on the floor to enable them to see their way.

Using plastic corrugated card and sheeting they then built scale models and finally did mini-presentations on their work. "It's the usual design and technology format, but with a different content," says Greg. "I could see that they had understood the different kinds of disability and the needs.

The project brought the design and technology thought processes into another area of the curriculum, PSHE. It made the whole concept of inclusion very real and added a practical dimension," he added.

Other slideshows include virtual tours of homes, playgrounds and fairgrounds, with pupils being asked how people with different needs might cope.

Nod-5 From left to right: Year 5 pupils Connor, Thomas, Sophie and Megan from Brambletye Junior School in Redhill design an all-inclusive playground

* The DPTAC advises the government on the transport and built environment needs of disabled people. www.dptac.gov.uk

* The Designing Everyone In materials pack will be sent to every primary school on CD before the end of the term and will be available to download from the primary section on www.data.org.uk

* A workshop on the project will be held at Sheffield Hallam University on July 8. For further details visit the DATA website.

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