Eline designs skatepark for wheelchair users and skaters

A global first: skatepark that is also suitable for wheelchair users. For her thesis project, Eline Lammens, Human Kinetic Technology student, explored possibilities for an inclusive skatepark at the Zuiderpark Sports Campus in The Hague.

Skatepark

She came up with the idea to make this her thesis topic during the Adapted Sports minor programme. She then contacted the company K-J Projects, which organises training courses on wheelchair skills. “Learning to use a wheelchair is not much different than learning to ride a bike,” explains Eline. “You need to practice things like going over a curb or up or down a slope.”

Self-sufficient

In the wheelchair skills training courses, Eline learned that wheelchair users are not too eager to practice on the street. “If something goes wrong, there are people who can help you, which is great of course, but a wheelchair user wants to learn to be self-sufficient. Practice is more normal at a skatepark. Not only that, but practicing in a facility like this gives both the disabled and abled a chance to get to know each other in a fun setting.”

Combination

There are wheelchair users, the WCMXers, who perform the most spectacular spins at a skatepark, but Eline’s inclusive skatepark is not specially intended or designed for this. “Picture platforms and slopes. The possibility to practice going over curbs by starting with an obstacle that is 5 cm high. This is what I want to combine with obstacles for skaters. It’s also more economically attractive to design something for wheelchair users in combination with skaters than to build separate facilities.”

Challenging

Eline is focusing on the Zuiderpark, which already has a skatepark that the municipality wants to update. She engaged in dialogue with skaters, neighbourhood residents and wheelchair users in developing a set of requirements. That was tricky at times. “I’m trying something new and people need to get used to the idea. The skaters are not sure they even want wheelchair users in the park. They think it’s a good idea, but have their doubts because they’re afraid that the wheelchair users will get in their way. To change their mind-set, I showed them videos of WCMX and of wheelchair skills events organised by K-J Projects.”

Standing firm

How did the Municipality of The Hague respond to her idea? “I was not looking forward to that first meeting, being a student and all. They asked me critical questions, but took me seriously. They considered the costs based on how many wheelchair users would actually use it. At that point, you need to stand firm and not compromise your idea. That’s not always easy. But I’ve gotten better at it. I invited them to my thesis defence and want to share my findings with them.”

Making choices

It was not always easy for Eline to work on a project all on her own. “We’ve always done projects in groups and now I was alone. I had to make choices in the design, which is difficult, but also a valuable experience.” One aspect she particularly enjoyed was the contact with the various parties. “You receive lots of feedback and get all kinds of new ideas. You take your findings from one meeting to another and get new feedback every time. It was challenging, but also rewarding to bring all of this together into a design.”