Disabilities, urban natures and children’s outdoor play

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Normative, widely-circulated discourses about the value of outdoor, natural play for children overwhelmingly marginalise the experiences of families with disabled children, for whom outdoor/natural play can be characterised as a site of hard work, heartache, dread, resignation and inadequacy. This paper presents findings from research with sixty North London families with children aged 5-16 who have a statutory ‘Statement of Special Needs’. Focusing on these families’ experiences of visiting designated, newly-refurbished accessible natural play-spaces in two local country parks, the paper highlights: (i) the multiple, compound social-material ‘barriers to fun’ encountered in these spaces; (ii) the profound emotional-affective impacts of such barriers, most notably in terms of feelings of ‘resignation’ and ‘dread’; (iii) parents’/carers’ sadness occasioned by perceived ‘failures’ to ‘live up to’ normative ideals of parenting and family engagement with outdoor play and urban natures; (iv) nevertheless, the possibility of moments of family joy, love and ‘special’ time, afforded via families’ ‘hard work’ and ‘keeping going through hard times’. Through an engagement with recent conceptualisations of everyday geographies of disabilities, the paper suggests that these qualitative experiences complicate some chief, normative ways of ways of knowing outdoor play, urban natures and barriers to accessibility.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Pages (from-to)1152-1174
Number of pages23
JournalSocial and Cultural Geography
Issue number8
Early online date1 Nov 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Nov 2016


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