Archive for the ‘way finding’ Category

Accent on Security

Friday, August 5th, 2011

One of the features that stood out for me at Morgan’s Wonderland was their security program. As I purchased my ticket in the air conditioned ticket “center” (more on this another day – it’s worthy of mentioning!), the ticket taker presented me with a wristband to wear during my visit.

All visitors, I was told when I asked about this, receive such a wristband. It has a chip in it that helps to locate certain features on the site – especially if you can’t read, have trouble figuring out maps, and still want to find places such as restrooms, food and drink, etc. There are kiosks (such as in the photograph) provided throughout Morgan’s Wonderland where you can scan your wristband and find these facilities. This wayfinding tool is pretty neat. I confess that I didn’t notice the kiosks in the park, except the one next to the entrance, so didn’t think about using it instead of the map that I collected upon entering (but I’m old fashioned). However, if you don’t read English, or have difficulty with maps, this tool can be really helpful.

More importantly, this system helps to locate individuals who may get separated from the rest of their party. When a group of people want to come and visit Morgan’s Wonderland, they are requested to register in advance. The staff at the playland produces a number of wristbands with the same chip properties for that group. In the event that someone gets lost, a group member can go to the kiosk and scan their personal wristband. This will activate ALL the group members’ wristbands so that they appear on the map, showing their individual locations simultaneously. Presumably, all members of the group who are not lost would be located in proximity to one another. The person who has become separated from the group should also show up on the kiosk map, enabling the group to find that individual.

As I have been writing this, it reminded me of the many times my young son would run away when we ventured into public space. He was between two and five years old when he would run away. His speech wasn’t well developed, and he wouldn’t speak to strangers. He didn’t do this all the time – which meant we never quite expected this to occur. He’d walk with me in a store, holding my hand; next minute, he was scampering off, hiding behind the legs of a store clerk. Early on, he figured out how to get out of the stroller harness and proceeded to run through the sprinklers at the local botanic garden. Or, once, he was sitting next to me on the coping wall of a small pond at a garden center. I was talking to one of the assistants about the pond plants at the time when my son suddenly stood up and jumped into the pond. Fortunately, the garden assistant was instantly able to grab him and pull him out of the pond! My husband reminded me of the time they were standing by a friends’ pond when our son just jumped in without any warning. Another time, we were sitting at a picnic table at a local farm where they made and sold ice cream. Matthew was eating his ice cream cone one minute. The next minute, he was bolting through the busy parking lot 50 yards away! (We now think he should be on the track team). We noticed, at the time, that he didn’t respond when we called for him to stop. It was as if he couldn’t hear or process the sounds. Fortunately, he (and we) survived his early childhood bouts with running away!

Our son is not the only one who does this! The aspect of running away has been written about in the literature regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Just this week, a young child (diagnosed with ASD) drowned in a puddle after a rainstorm in the Philadelphia region after the parents reported him missing from the house. Our local Autism Listserve keeps us abreast of articles regarding findings, events, and everything-autism. Here’s good information on wandering:
http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/03/24/dangerous-wandering-a-lesser-known-side-of-autism

The National Autism Association has a safety toolkit on autism and wandering: http://www.nationalautismassociation.org/safetytoolkit.php

Morgan’s Wonderland has taken steps to not only make a place fun and accessible to be in, but also helps to reassure caregivers that their children/charges will be safe from getting lost because of wandering. I was not present when large groups came into the park, so I don’t know if the caregivers/chaperones were made aware of how to use the kiosk system to activate the wristband information. This may be an important consideration for play environments regarding children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental delays; quite possibly, it may be important for toddlers’ environments as well.

Autism and Landscape Architecture Month, Part X: Affordances in the Physical Environment

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

In my discussions with autistic children (child collaborators), together with their parents, I’ve learned that the more opportunities a place has for people, the greater the chance people will visit it. Duh! (This is a researcher’s term! We say it to ourselves all the time when reading journal articles.) And, yet, with regard to children’s environments, we still design places that are single-type uses. For example, there is a big push for storybook exhibits for children’s museums. While the sculpted settings are fun to look at, you can’t crawl on them. There are also too few opportunities to read the actual books. Even at Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum, their Alice and Wonderland maze has children crawling all over the walls while signs say, “Do not climb”. Or playgrounds that provide only play equipment but no places to hide or passively watch the world.

Two of the children in my group of child collaborators are brother and sister, both autistics. However, this is where the family similarities stop. The brother has hypo-sensitivities towards noise, glare, lateral movements and heights; the sister is more of a “sensory seeker” who loves to be challenged by sensations. The brother loves everything dinosaur and could spend the day (and overnight) in a dinosaur museum. The sister, who has spent her entire life in dinosaur museums (because of her brother), vastly prefers any place else; she especially enjoys places with live animals. After her divorce, their mother found that it was difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate both children’s needs in typical children’s environments. If only we could have both (environments) in one place!

Here’s where the theory of affordances comes into play! Fifty or so years ago, Dr. James Jerome Gibson wrote about how creatures perceived of their physical environment. Using their senses, each creature does a quick study of the environment to determine its affordances – what the environment can afford, or offer. If I am thirsty, and looking for water, I will look for features that suggest the presence of water: vegetation associated with rivers, streams or ponds, etc.; certain geological features for waterfalls or low-lying areas that suggest lakes or ponds. If I were in the city, I would look for signs that would direct me to a water fountain, soda machine, restaurant or bar.

Perhaps a better example is this: the brother and sister, who I had previously mentioned, walk into a public garden and look around. The sister spies a pond with fish and then spends time watching the fish, touching the water, gazing at the clouds reflected in the water. The brother spots a rock wall (which happens to be supporting a terraced garden) with bits of fossils in them and spends his time identifying the fossils. The walk further into the garden and see a large tree. To one of the children, the tree provides a shady refuge from the glaring sun; to the other child, it is a veritable monkey-bar-like climbing paradise! Other creatures have also gravitated towards the tree as well: a bird makes its nest in the protection of its clustered branches; a beetle crawls into a broken piece of bark, looking for shelter and food; a sapsucker notices the break in the bark as well and pecks away at it in search of a meal (the beetle). The one thing – the tree – affords a multitude of uses for different creatures. The more affordances that a single thing provides make it more popular as a place or activity! Perhaps, by grouping things, that each has their own cluster of affordances, we create a place of diversity that can be enjoyed by a diverse group of individuals. In my interviews with my 15 child collaborators, the majority of their favorite environments had, in addition to the children’s preferred activities, so many more uses as well.

Next: Affordances meets social skill development

April is Autism and Landscape Architecture Month, Part VII: Sensory Needs

Monday, April 11th, 2011

This past June, my son competed at Junior Nationals for Trampoline in Virginia Beach, VA. On one of our days off, we visited the Virginia Beach Aquarium. Some of their displays near the entrance were of unusual land creatures that spent much of their day in water. They had just installed a room for the Komodo dragon. Possibly, to keep the dragon from feeling too much on display, our area for viewing was cavelike, with festoons of vines hanging from the ceiling and spilling around the edges of the window, shielding us from the dragon’s sight.

I was about to move to the next exhibit space when I heard a voice behind me say, “Afraid. I’m afraid…” I turned around to see a young woman standing in the center of the room. Her head was bent towards the floor and her arms hugged her body as if to try to comfort herself. I went up to her and asked her if she was okay and she repeated “I’m afraid.”

“Is there anyone here with you?” I asked.

“Yes. My grandmother.” Her eyes never lifted their gaze up from the floor.

“Is this place the problem?” The words popped out of my mouth.

She nodded vigorously. “They changed it. It was different before and they changed it.”

“What did they change?” I asked.

“They made it darker. There are vines – It’s scary.”

I explained that the Aquarium probably wanted to make the new lizard feel more at home and put us in the dark so the animal wouldn’t feel on display. She nodded her head.

“Would you like me to walk with you for awhile? Maybe if we leave this room, you’ll feel better?” I asked. Again, she nodded and took my arm. As we left the room, she sighed and seemed to gather her energy in the hallway. We met up with her grandmother down the hall.

“You need to act your age!” the older woman exclaimed when she saw her granddaughter. The young woman said nothing. I tried to explain that I researched places like this to find out how people responded to them and suggested that her granddaughter was uncomfortable with the darkness in the previous room. “Oh, she’s always like this. She just needs to grow up!” the woman responded again. “She’ll be alright,” and she motioned for me to go. Before I left, I commented that different people reacted in different ways to places.

I had encountered a similar situation with an autistic boy who suddenly panicked when going through the Plexiglas tunnel in the shark tank at the Camden Aquarium. The curved glass in the tunnel warped the view. Even a few of the parents commented that they felt claustrophobic in the tunnel. The boy, however, would not go through it even for the short distance. Instead, we walked back around the way we had come. Where the Camden Aquarium succeeded, and the Virginia Beach Aquarium did not, was in providing at least one alternate path for people who could not tolerate more extreme or unusual environments. Here, the importance of signage and other way finding devices are not only helpful but critical in providing choices. Museums are discovering that if they want to attract larger audiences, they have to provide such alternatives for the population of people with sensory issues. Other places, such as aquariums, zoos and even children’s gardens, have not come to this realization… yet.

Next: Crowding