Building Inclusive Playgrounds & Communities!

Playground Signs Help Non-Verbal Students Communicate and Play Freely

Two Communication Boards with Braille Dedicated at Blandiar Park in Columbia, MD! (April 16, 2021)

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Today Howard County Executive Calvin Ball joined the Department of Recreation & Parks to unveil two innovative nonverbal communication boards at Blandair Regional Park’s new “Play for All” playground. The boards, which were partially funded by the Howard County Autism Society (HCAS), allow nonverbal children to easily communicate without the use of personal augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. The park’s Play for All playground is set to open this Spring.  Photos from the event can be found HERE.

“Howard County is constantly working towards creating a more inclusive community, for all,” said Ball. “These communication boards are a welcome addition to this state-of-the-art park and will allow for more of our children of all abilities to have positive experience at our playground. Thank you to the Howard County Autism Society for this contribution, and to our Department of Recreation & Parks for working collaborating with our community to make this site truly a place for all.”

To use the communication boards, children point to pictures on the display to express their thoughts and feelings. The symbols on the board were taken from a communication product called TouchChat and were selected by speech-language pathologists specifically for use on playgrounds. The boards, which also include braille, are designed to encourage a sense of community as well as an inclusive, more equitable play environment.

The County has eight other communication boards, which were installed at Waverly, Cedar Lane, Bellows Spring, Clarksville, Dayton Oaks, Ilchester, Pointers Run and Rockburn Elementary School last year. The 3 x 5-foot boards were made possible through special funding from the HCAS and fabricated by sign manufacturer Sharma & Associates.

“Our new playground at Blandair Park was designed from the ground up to be a space where every child feels welcome. With amenities like these Communication Boards, Blandair Park will serve as a model for how our parks can and should be built with every member of our community in mind” said Recreation & Parks Director Raul Delerme. “We thank the Howard County Autism Society for this generous gift.”

“As a Howard County resident, Howard County Autism Society Board Member, and nearly 10-year veteran autism mom, I couldn’t be more proud of our community and its pioneering vision to address the needs of everyone in our community,” said HCAS Secretary Katie Gandy. This inclusive playground at Blandair Park is going to revolutionize the way families with disabled family members are able to play and interact within our community. It provides them with an inclusive, judgement-free zone to allow our children to play just like their peers.”

“The Howard County Autism Society is grateful to have partnered with our county and the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks to increase equity for those children with learning and communication differences,” said HCAS Board President Patrick Boxall. “These communication boards make play more inclusive for children using assistive technology and their typical peers. “

One of Howard County’s premier destinations for sports events, Blandair Park is a 300-acre public recreation area in the heart of Columbia. The park’s Play for All playground is set to open this spring. For more information on Blandair Park, visit https://www.howardcountymd.gov/Departments/Recreation-and-Parks/Parks-and-Planning/Park-Directory/Blandair-Park.

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Howard County Autism Society Donates Communication Boards to 8 Howard County Public Schools (October 2020)

On October 26, 2020, The Howard County Autism Society (HCAS) was honored to celebrate the installation of the first of eight new Communication Boards on the playground at Waverly Elementary School in Ellicott City, MD. The signs, donated by HCAS to the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS), are believed to be the first of their kind at a public elementary school playground in Maryland. They are designed to assist students who are nonverbal and use communication devices play more freely and inclusively on the playground with their peers.

Students will be able to point to pictures on the communication signs, which mimic the displays on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, to express their thoughts, feelings, needs and choices. The sign’s vocabulary design is based on TouchChat, a commonly used communication app for AAC devices. By using these signs, students will no longer need to carry their personal AAC devices with them, as the wearing of these devices can make it difficult to access the playground equipment easily.

“These communication signs were commissioned by the Howard County Autism Society as its gift to the children, families and staff of HCPSS,” said Katie Gandy, the HCAS Board Member who led the project and whose own son utilizes an AAC. “They will not only bring awareness to AAC devices, but also increase equity for those children with learning and communication differences. And exposure to these signs for neurotypical children is just as beneficial, so they can communicate with their peers who use AAC systems of communication.”

“I’m grateful to the Howard County Autism Society for these communication signs, which will help make our elementary school playgrounds more inclusive for everyone. Our efforts together allow our children who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices to find the power of communication and the freedom to have fun on the playground like their peers,” said HCPSS Superintendent Michael J. Martirano.

The signs will help foster a sense of community and an inclusive, equitable environment while exposing all students who use the elementary school playgrounds to AAC technology. Once HCPSS schools physically reopen, plans are underway to train staff and peers on how to model language and interact with students using the communication signs during recess.

The groundbreaking ceremony marked the first installation of the communication signs, which will also be at the following school playgrounds: Cedar Lane School and Bellows Spring, Clarksville, Dayton Oaks, Ilchester, Pointers Run and Rockburn elementary schools. The schools were chosen due to the number of students who attend special education programs and communicate using AAC devices.

“The playground signs are an innovative approach for co-creating more inclusive experiences for students with unique abilities and represent a promising step toward building a stronger sense of community for our students,” said HCPSS Department of Special Education Executive Director Terri Savage. “The partnership that made this idea a reality is yet another indicator that, together, we can do more to serve our youngest learners receiving early intervention and special education services and their families.”

These signs were a gift from HCAS to HCPSS and funded through an HCAS special fund, which is earmarked for projects or endeavors created or initiated by the HCAS Board of Directors. The endeavor was made possible through the collaboration of HCAS, HCPSS Department of Special Education, HCPSS Ground Services, and Sharma & Associates.

 

Interested in Having Communication Boards on YOUR local playground?  

The symbols on the board were taken from a communication product called TouchChat and were selected by Speech-Language Pathologists from the Howard County Public School System as ones they felt would be most useful on the playground.  TouchChat is a full-featured communication solution for individuals who have difficulty using their natural voice.Our graphic designer then prepared the artwork.

The signs were constructed and installed by Sharma and Associates in Laurel, MD.  Their website is at http://www.sharmaassoc.com/Cost or email rsharma@sharmaassoc.com.   Each 3’ x 5’ board cost about $725 each including installation. Sharma and Associates work in eight states – MD, VA, DC, PA, DE, WV, NJ and NC – and have partners in additional states so that a piece can be created and installed at your location.  Questions?  Email info@howard-autism.org