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Gudgudee at Blind Peoples' Association

Picture your local playground. What do you see? Did you imagine a group of children playing as their parents look on? Well, that’s what I would see if I paid a visit to my local playground. However, when I picture Kilkariya, I see no ordinary playground.. A merry-go-round for the senses, Kilkariya knows no boundaries.

When the Gudgudee team collaborated with the Blind People’s Association (BPA), Ahmedabad the lives of many were going to change. For the seemingly shy and withdrawn children at the BPA, a typical day used to involve classroom learning interspersed with vocational training and physiotherapy. It was all very well-organised and the children seemed to be getting everything they needed to live a healthy and intelligent life. Yet, these children seemed afraid and hesitant to mingle and play with outsiders. Anjali Menon and Aditi Agrawal at Gudgudee identified what these children were lacking. These children had inadvertently been denied their right to play opportunities. The playgrounds constructed across the city proved to be hazardous for children with disabilities, and there was a lack of appropriate play facilities and equipment at their school. The absence of any places for activities and self discovery only helped highlight the disabilities of the children and incidentally pushed them further away from the rest of Society. . After months of research and observation Gudgudee created Kilkariya, an inclusive sensory play space where the children can learn while engaging in loosely controlled-fun activities.

The dire need for spaces like Kilkariya has been stressed by occupational psychologists across the globe. Research has indicated that playgrounds are not only a source of healthy social interaction but also integral to a child’s mental and physical health. Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook, has claimed that “As we continue to decrease children’s time and space to move and play outdoors, we are seeing a simultaneous rise in the number of children presenting with sensory deficits.” Thus the lack of free outdoor sensory play spaces for the differently abled is not only lowering their confidence but also causing a rise in underdeveloped vestibular systems. This problem is not limited to children with special needs but extends to most children around the world. As an inclusive play space, Kilkariya helps not only build the confidence of disabled children via social interaction but also create a space in which children from across society can sharpen their senses and use their imagination.

Created with a variety of materials, some rummaged from various garbage cans in the city, Kilkariya is a safe and inexpensive play- space. The designers, who were then students of the National Institute of Design, have filled the playground with aesthetic, simple and colorful installations. Their uncanny ability to produce an economical aesthetic and monumentally useful product won them the International Forum concept Award.

The installations in Kilkariya include a bioscope, an interactive wall, bamboo chimes, and various sound installations. These elements were created keeping in mind the needs of the children, as the Gudgudee team went through various artificial simulations that helped them experience the world in a manner similar to the children of the BPA. The Sputnik which is a bioscope designed in the form of a spaceship keeps in mind the needs of wheelchair users by maintaining low viewing holes fashioned like windows. The images in the background are simple vivid animations that enthrall children with varying attention spans. The interactive wall on the other hand has various textures produced by items as simple as bottle caps that engage those that touch it. With basic cut outs and simple imagery, this wall instigates the imaginations of the children who interact with it however they please. While deciding whether to simply touch it or climb over it or pass through it, the children build confidence as they define their own play. A tactile and visual treat, this wall provides incentive to children with motor problems. The bamboo chimes and sound installations although fascinating to almost everyone, cater in particular to the needs of the visually impaired children. These simple structures help visually impaired children understand cause and effect as they get immediate reactions from the installations when they manipulate them in any way. The ‘twisters’ are made with metal pipes which primarily act as sound amplifiers. The pipes that are intertwined and half concealed in the ground facilitate various activities such as seating, sliding, climbing, and hanging. These twisters provide a tinge of adventure as the curious children follow the intertwined tubes to find the source of the sound they hear. Anjali and Aditi noticed the hesitation of the children when they first came to play and they realised that Kilkariya mustn't be a “special” playground but an inclusive one that enthralls you regardless of your abilities. Thus Kilkariya acts like an interface for the children of BPA to interact with the rest of society.

The simple, economically viable elements at Kilkariya engage people through auditory, visual as well as tactile elements. Parks such as Kilkariya, not only facilitate better lifestyles for those that are granted their right to play opportunities but also bring about a change in our worldview as we embrace physical and mental differences. Sharing and enjoying a common play-space replaces the unnecessary pity and sympathy with which we treat the differently-abled with respect and acceptance. Fortunately, these playgrounds are rapidly spreading, and an effort to change our attitudes is real and gaining ground. Next time you picture your local playground, picture something extraordinary.

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