Building Inclusive Playgrounds & Communities!

Playground Signs Help Non-Verbal Students Communicate and Play Freely

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.
Two additional signs which will include braille are planned for installation at the new inclusive playground site at Blandair Park in Columbia, MD when it opens in April 2021.  HCAS is working with the Howard County Library System to adapt similar indoor communication boards for use in local libraries.
Interested in getting 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 in HCPSS as ones they felt would be most useful on the playground.  Our graphic designer then prepared the artwork.  The signs were constructed and installed by Sharma and Associates in Laurel, MD.  Their website is at or email   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