Inclusive play: a driver for change on Zero Discrimination Day

(and every other day!)

Zoe Gan, UNICEF Programme Specialist (Gender & Disability)
Children & dad playing in playground
UNICEF 2021/Grace Tan
28 February 2022

“I like going to the inclusive playground, because I can play just like my friends and play with them. When I play with my friends without disabilities, I feel grateful because I have friends who are there for me and help make things easier. I don’t feel left out. When my friends without disabilities play with me, I think they learn to be more patient, kind, caring and always help each other.”

Izdihar Janna Adzly, 16, Youth Disability Advocate

Zero discrimination through inclusive play

Children with disabilities in Malaysia and around the world are some of the most discriminated against people in our societies. They are consistently ignored in national legislation and policies. Basic health, education and protection services exclude them. They are subjected to negative public attitudes and stigma. And all the while, expected to overcome multiple inaccessible public and private spaces.

As part of our work towards zero discrimination of children with disabilities, UNICEF Malaysia explored the possibility of creating inclusive spaces so that children with and without disabilities could play together.

By playing together as equals, we take a step closer to ensuring that all forms of exclusion and discrimination in education, healthcare and within our society become unacceptable. Through play, children learn patience, kindness, and empathy. Once they have a shared understanding of inclusion and diversity, children and adults begin to demand that their peers can equally participate in all forms of life regardless of their age, gender, or disability.

Partnering with Sime Darby Property and with the support of the Shah Alam City Council, UNICEF led a co-creation process together with; children with and without disabilities; their parents; families; and friends to design and build an inclusive playground.

This 1st of March, on Zero Discrimination Day, we will launch the inclusive playground. It is a day to celebrate the right of everyone to live a full and productive life. And to live it with dignity. The day and the playground act as a beacon of hope in our fight to say “no” to discrimination – they are a celebration of diversity on our collective journey to promote tolerance.

The role of businesses in forging a path

The private sector in Malaysia has a huge responsibility to uphold children’s rights. Children are affected by how businesses treat their parents, conduct business operations, market their products and influence the economy. They have an outsized influence that cannot be taken for granted.

That is why we are grateful for partners like Sime Darby Property who together with the Shah Alam City Council have undertaken the initiative to build inclusivity into their developments. Along with the inclusive playground in the City of Elmina, UNICEF has developed a guidance toolkit in the form of a Best Business Practice Circular. The Guidance Toolkit targets the corporate sector, government bodies, other stakeholders and communities who are responsible for planning new residential estates, parks and play spaces. This Best Business Practice Circular and Guidance Toolkit aims to encourage the adoption of inclusion and universal design principles to inspire the creation of even more properties, public buildings, and outdoor spaces.

UNICEF’s vision is to see Malaysia foster the principles of inclusive development at its core. Decision makers will reform, develop, and implement inclusive policies that would take into account children’s right to play within their development aspirations. Local authorities and property developers will invest more resources and develop technical capacity to ensure that inclusive and accessible spaces for children are available in all cities, services, and new property developments.

Inclusion and zero discrimination are not a dream, but something we can achieve for every child in Malaysia. This world is within reach, and a trailblazing model of this can be found at the inclusive playground in the City of Elmina.

Today, on Zero Discrimination Day, let’s work together to end all forms of discrimination against children with disabilities, celebrate all types of diversity within our society, and recognise that everyone’s rights count!

The Inclusive Playground Best Business Practice Circular and Guidance Toolkit and other advocacy assets can be accessed at https://www.unicef.org/malaysia/inclusive-playgrounds