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Barriers to Outdoor Inclusion

In order to understand what we can do best to include children with disabilities into outdoor recreation, we first must understand what's been hampering inclusion 


A study from the Netherlands identified three types of primary barriers: Institutional, Physical, and Social. 

In 2021, a study written by L van Engelen (et. al,) delved into why children with disabilities's physical activity hadn't increased with playground accessibility advancements. The study was conducted via interviews with parents of children with physical disabilities, with ages ranging from two to twelve years old. 


Social Barriers

Social Barriers are the most prominent barriers to outdoor inclusion 

Both professionals and parents expressed that Dutch society was not socially inclusive enough. Children with physical disabilities did not feel comfortable playing with their typically developing peers.


The children experienced negative self-comparisons between them and their able-bodied peers, which arose feelings of shame. The children also reported that they had difficulty keeping up with able-bodied peers both cognitively and physically. The children found it difficult to make friends, even struggling to find peers in similar situations to themselves to bond with. 

 Parents of children with physical disabilities interfere too much in their child’s free play, causing the child to not develop independently. The parents were often found to not understand the capabilities of their child for specific outdoor activities, therefore they could not assess what level of play is appropriate. Parents also expressed issues of facing negative experiences at playgrounds, where they felt their child was alienated and made a spectacle of. The parents claimed that other parents of able-bodied children wouldn’t encourage their child to include the child with physical disabilities because they found the responsibility to be too great. 

Physical Barriers interact with social barriers and have more tangible implications  

Most of the physical barriers coincide with the social barriers with outdoor inclusion. The physical barriers are the most obvious, tangible aspects of lack of accessibility.  Components of this include inaccurate trail ratings, lack of information available about the accessibility of outdoor recreation areas. 

The elements of physical barriers which compound the most with social exclusion are the lack of ability to keep up with peers and able-bodied children not knowing how to interact with peers with disabilities. These two factors can be addressed with education and communication about recreating with a disability. 


Physical Barriers 

Twins with Down Syndrome in Wheelbarrow

Institutional Barriers 

Institutional Barriers contribute to the continuace of social misconceptions and perpetuate physical inequalities 

 Institutionally, the study found it was difficult to organize inclusion for children with disabilities. They discovered that it was difficult to give a specific professional a role which would improve the level of inclusion in play across the board because it is so highly individualized to a specific child’s needs.  


It’s vital that the parents and professionals educate the community on how to include children with disabilities into general play. This works by integrating the child with physical disabilities into the general community and educating people on their capabilities and the necessity for their inclusion for their development. Not only will this educate able-bodied children on how to play with their peers with disabilities, but it will also create a space for other children with disabilities within the community to engage.

Much of the answer to the institutional inequalities lies in dedicating more resources to outdoor disability inclusion. More programs, more specialized positions in outdoor programs to cater to these needs, and overall, more awareness of this necessity. 

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