Aditi Agrawal and Anjali Menon, former classmates at the National Institute of Design, paid a visit to the Blind People’s Association (BPA) while working on a class project that focused on the subject, Design for Special Needs. Their visit to the BPA was intended primarily for research, but while there, they noticed something odd.
Disability and Social Exclusion: A Debilitating Problem
Most of the children with visual impairments and/or other types of disabilities rarely ever went outdoors to play with their peers. They stayed indoors for two reasons – one was that their disability caused them to be ridiculed as they could not compete or collaborate with their playmates on their terms; and the second was that the equipment and games present in the play area could pose a danger to a child who couldn’t see her way around as well as her peers.
These twin factors forced the children to stay confined to their classrooms, which in turn played a role in stunting their normal physical and social development. The social stigma associated with being unable to play with one’s friends and classmates also caused psychological issues such as depression in the children. Overall, as the two girls realized during their research, something needed to change, and quickly.
The Birth of Gudgudee: An Inclusive Playground for All
Around this time, the two friends became enamored with the idea of designing an inclusive play area where every child – regardless of disabilities or physical limitations – could play together without the risk of injury or stigma.
This was not an easy project, and required endless innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. However, no one could have been better suited to this gigantic task than Aditi and Anjali, alumni of the best design school in India, the National Institute of Design.
The design for an inclusive play area that they came up with, won them the 2013 iF Concept Design Award in Hamburg, Germany. This victory helped boost their confidence in their brainchild and encouraged them to keep working on the project.
An Entrepreneurial Journey Towards a Better World
A year later, in 2014, the young women decided to set up their own design studio, and Gudgudee was born as the only studio in India that is dedicated to designing inclusive play-areas for differently-abled children.
These play-areas would allow disabled children to play outdoors with their siblings and friends. Apart from allowing them to have a good time, such inclusion from an early age would help them become more confident and self-reliant as adults. They would grow to see themselves as a part of society, rather than as outcasts in a world that wanted to keep them out.
Designing a Play Area That Does Not Discriminate
Most people in India had only ever seen the conventional playgrounds with ready-to-use equipment such as swings and see-saws. Understandably, it was initially difficult for them to imagine anything different or to visualize a playground that would bring about a radical change in this age-old design.
Anjali and Aditi, however, were not to be daunted. They could, of course, have taken the easy route of adding belts, ramps, and safety harnesses to conventional playground equipment. But that was never the point of Gudgudee.
They wanted to create a space where the differently-abled kids could thrive, not just survive. They wanted all the children to learn and play together as equals.
Gudgudee: A Unique Space for an Equal Future
Thus, Gudgudee is all about creating a space where the experience of playing is intrinsically inclusive and not just accommodative. Beyond plastics and metals, the innovative young women have used local materials and everyday items like bells and bottle-caps to integrate all types of sensory stimulation into their playgrounds.
With a portfolio of over 50 products, the duo is now striving to bring the idea of inclusive playgrounds into the mainstream. Over the years, their efforts have been recognized by various institutions, and in 2019, they were included in Forbes’ list of ‘India’s 30 under 30‘.
During a TEDx Talk at the Bangalore Institute of Technology last year, the women asked the audience: “Why do we, as a society, not design things keeping in mind special-needs people?”
And that is exactly the question that Gudgudee has been answering with great style, amazing panache, and inspiring self-assurance!
Banner Image: Forbes India