Children’s rehabilitation facilities serve a unique purpose that is separate from the function of the acute care offered by hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Rehabilitation centres provide ongoing therapeutic care to support children as they transition out of hospital care, or to promote a sense of autonomy for children who require ongoing therapy. Design plays an important role in helping to deliver a universally safe, therapeutic space for children with varying abilities: an inclusive design that caters to kids and their families who have varying abilities. So how do architects and designers create a truly inclusive design that caters to kids with varying needs?
In 2012, as a result of our specialist experience, Parkin was retained by the multi-site ErinoakKids as the Planning, Design and Compliance team. We researched and developed the Project Specific Output Specifications (PSOS) with which the three bidding ProjectCo proponents were required to comply. The proponents were required to provide dynamic spaces that could support the needs of all children who visited the facility. Designers also needed to consider how the built environment could be universally accessible for all children.
Incorporating therapeutic elements into design
Through consultations with administration, programmers, and therapists themselves, designers created supportive solutions that were both practical and useful for therapists. For instance, a flooring pattern was designed using markers at set intervals, so therapists are able to evaluate and work on a child’s gait. The flooring design also helps clients in setting goals such as getting to the next coloured line. Another therapy goal is climbing a staircase, so the main stair risers are numbered so that children can concretely see their progress as they reach each new goal.
Universal/Inclusive design—creating stigma-free spaces
Providing stigma-free spaces through inclusive design is vital to making every child’s journey through therapy as stress-free as possible. For instance, all three buildings’ main entrance doors are wide sliding doors that are accessible to all users. Wider stairs are provided for children and their families who need assistance, while stair landings are designed to serve as rest areas for children who have difficulties with transitions.
Given the high stimulation environment, rooms are designed especially for distraction-free, concentrated learning and therapy, which allows the therapist to bring in any stimulus as needed. Rest areas are placed strategically, with some in quiet corners so that children who may be feeling overwhelmed can retreat to a less stimulating space. Offering different levels of stimulus in rooms and rest areas―like active, colourful play spaces or neutral places that allow children to be on their own―means that all children visiting the facility can enjoy a space that works for them.
Play is also an important part of rehabilitation. Things like climbing walls can be both fun and provide different types of therapy opportunities. For example, a climbing wall at ErinoakKids was designed with specific colours to help kids overcome colour phobias, while the shapes were different to help kids learn about shapes and colours. There is also an accessible treehouse in one of the play areas that is accessed by way of a lift so all children can interact together, and no one is left out.
Going to a healthcare facility is rarely a child’s idea of a good time, but a thoughtful design that integrates therapies and ensures accessibility for all can make the therapy process more tolerable and sometimes even a bit of fun.