Making Playgrounds Accessible & Inclusive for All
Do you remember spending afternoons swinging high into the sky, dreaming of life’s possibilities? Or speeding down the slide to catch up with a friend? Many of us look back fondly to the days when life revolved around the playground. It’s heartbreaking to think some kids don’t know what it’s like to swing, slide and climb at the park with friends. At Miracle® Recreation, we want to help bring playtime to all kids.
Playing at the playground is an essential part of childhood. It helps kids get the physical exercise they need to stay healthy, and it helps them develop critical cognitive, emotional and social skills. Every kid deserves the chance to learn, have fun and create joyful memories on the playground.
An accessible playground is not necessarily inclusive, and both elements are essential for a playground to benefit everyone. In this post, we’ll explore the differences between accessibility and inclusivity, the advantages of both and how you can make a difference as a playground owner. There is nothing more rewarding than building a playground that welcomes kids of all abilities. Sometimes, just a few small changes can make a playground more inclusive, and you don’t need a limitless budget to make it happen.
Read the full article or skip to a specific section:
- What Is an Accessible Playground?
- What Is an Inclusive Playground?
- Why Make Your Playground Accessible and Inclusive?
- How to Make a Playground Accessible and Inclusive
- Accessible and Inclusive Equipment to Include in Your Playground
- Grants for Accessible and Inclusive Playground Equipment
- View Inclusive Playground Equipment From Miracle Recreation
What Is an Accessible Playground?
An accessible playground meets ADA regulations and ensures that kids with or without disabilities have access to and can use playground equipment. It also invites parents, caregivers or older siblings with disabilities into the play area to supervise children or take part in the fun. In 2018, 14% of students attending public school received special education services. These included specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, autism, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbances, hearing impairment and orthopedic impairments.
The accessibility guidelines in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require most new playgrounds to comply with the standards they set forth. They also require existing playgrounds undergoing alterations to comply. A few ADA compliance standards for playgrounds include:
- An accessible playground must have available, unobstructed routes to the playground and connecting play equipment.
- The playground must include at least one of each type of ground-level play component on an accessible route.
- At least 50% of the playground’s elevated play components must be on an accessible route.
- Ramps must have handrails on both sides.
- Playgrounds must use specific safety surfacing that has met ADA criteria. Additionally, this surfacing should receive regular inspections and maintenance to ensure compliance.
All kids should be able to travel freely on smooth pathways and ramps, use grab bars with ease and be able to move from one piece of equipment to the next safely.
What Is an Inclusive Playground?
In addition to being accessible, your playground should be inclusive. An inclusive playground exceeds ADA regulations, and allows children of all abilities and developmental stages to play together and creates a nurturing environment for all.
No one deserves to feel left out. An inclusive playground considers the needs of all kids and incorporates play equipment that addresses those needs and promotes growth and joy. For example, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or sensory processing disorder sometimes need to regroup in a quiet, cozy space. To build an inclusive playground, you might incorporate a comfortable, quiet area for kids with ASD to escape the commotion without feeling isolated. Experts estimate one in 59 children has ASD. An inclusive playground sends kids with ASD and other disorders the message that they shouldn’t have to play alone.
Why Make Your Playground Accessible and Inclusive?
Children with disabilities benefit from free, unstructured play just as other children do, and they have a right to equal opportunities. An inclusive playground removes barriers between kids, despite any differences, and gives them the chance to play and grow together as they should. The benefits of an inclusive and accessible playground seem endless, but here are a few to consider.
- Help kids gain understanding: When all kids get to play together, they gain a better understanding of the world and learn to appreciate and accept differences and similarities. They get to learn new perspectives and develop empathy, which they can carry with them through life.
- Create a stimulating play environment: An accessible playground offers a wide variety of exciting inclusive play activities all kids can enjoy. From exploring a range of sensory-stimulating activities to using equipment that challenges their physical abilities without causing fatigue or stress, kids won’t get bored on a correctly designed inclusive playground.
- Help kids build self-esteem: A positive, enriching playground helps kids develop a sense of identity, and boosts their confidence and self-esteem as they learn new skills and make friends.
- Help families spend time together: Adults with disabilities can spend time with their kids or grandchildren in an accessible and inclusive playground.
- Build a better future: Inclusive and accessible playgrounds teach kids to value equality and fairness, which has long-lasting positive effects on the community and helps create an inclusive society where everyone enjoys equal opportunities.
Overall, an inclusive and accessible playground makes everyone happier, healthier and more connected to one another.
How to Make a Playground Accessible and Inclusive
Making a playground accessible and inclusive does not have to be complicated or unaffordable. There are plenty of resources available to provide guidance and funding assistance. Also, many playground structures already have inclusivity and accessibility in mind. Nevertheless, it’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed by all the options and regulations. Rest assured, you don’t need an enormous budget or space to make your playground fun for everyone. Let us help you start the process.
1. Evaluate Your Playground
The first step to design an accessible playground is to evaluate your playground and ask yourself the following questions:
- Can kids and adults who use wheelchairs or mobility devices easily access the playground and equipment?
- Are there deterrents such as slopes or narrow paths making accessibility difficult?
- Can kids of all abilities use playground equipment such as slides, swings and climbers?
- Can all kids play side by side?
- Are paths level and smooth, so kids in wheelchairs can easily move about?
- Is there enough shade to protect kids and their caregivers from the sun?
- Are there rest areas for parents and guardians?
- Are there activities that engage the senses in an interesting mix of shapes, textures and sounds?
- How many elevated inclusive play activities do you have?
- Do you have ramps, berms or other ways to make it more accessible?
- Can all playground users enter the playground using the same route, so no one feels excluded?
To make sure your playground is ADA-compliant, consult the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design published by the Department of Justice. Need more tips for playground planning? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Playground.
2. Determine Needs
Your top priority is to make your playground safe, fun and challenging for everyone, all in the same play space. That means considering the unique needs of all kids. For example, you might take the following into account.
- Adding sensory activities: Children with ASD often feel over- or understimulated, and either need a quiet place to escape to or the option to engage in activities that stimulate their senses. Make sure to include a mix of both calmer areas and sensory-rich activities that may involve music, lights or spinning motions.
- Boosting accessibility: Think about how children will access play equipment. You might need to add ramps or transfer systems so all children can enjoy slides, bridges and other pieces. Consider activities that will engage all children physically and help them build strength and coordination. Also, consider how much effort a child will have to put into reaching equipment. It should never be exhausting to play!
- Creating social space: Make sure to include inclusive play activities and equipment all children can use at the same time, so they get the chance to interact and socialize.
The entire playground should offer many opportunities for kids to develop cognitive, physical, social and sensory skills. Consider where your playground needs the most improvement and set realistic goals. Step by step, you can design an accessible and inclusive playground all the kids in your community will enjoy.
Accessible and Inclusive Equipment to Include in Your Playground
You can easily make any playground more accessible and inclusive. It may be a matter of adding a few new pieces of equipment to make a playground for everyone. We’ll show you inclusive and ADA-compliant playground equipment to demonstrate it’s all within your reach.
Ramps allow all children to reach elevated play components and enjoy the view up high. They should also provide a space to turn around in a wheelchair. Handrails on both sides of ramps allow kids to effortlessly pull themselves along. Ramps are perfect for kids who are unable or do not want to use transfer systems.
2. Inclusive Slides
Slides add a lot of fun to a playground and promote the development of social skills and coordination. All children should be able to enjoy the freeing feeling of riding a slide at the playground. An accessible and inclusive slide makes it easy for children of all abilities to reach the top of the slide. For example, our Avalanche Inclusive Slide, suitable for ages 5 to 12, offers a lower transfer point so kids can access the slide from ground level and pull themselves up by gripping the side rail. Once they reach the top, they can zoom down the spacious slide alongside siblings or friends.
3. Ground-Level Play Activities
Ground-level activities allow children to enter and exit equipment or structures at the ground level. When equipment is in the same play area, children get to interact and play regardless of developmental or ability levels. For example, our Ten Spin accommodates up to 10 kids at once, allowing them all to whirl and play together. You can easily add this freestanding piece of equipment to any playground to make it more inclusive.
4. Sensory Activities
Sensory activities not only help meet the needs of children with ASD, but they are also enjoyable for all kids and often easy to add to any playground. You might install a piece of musical equipment like our Concerto Chimes, so kids can explore different sounds and jam out to their unique tune. Our Clover Leaf Sandbox offers multiple access points at the perfect height, so kids can enjoy tactile play together, while still feeling comfortable in their personal space. To add excitement to your playground for everyone, consider our colorful Sensory Maze, which makes rainbows on the sidewalk as the sun shines through. Explore our sensory stimulation guide to learn more.
5. Inclusive Swings
There’s nothing more freeing than gliding through the air on a swing, and you can make it possible for all your playground users. Swinging helps children with autism process sensory information with soothing, repetitive motions. For all children, swinging helps improve motor skills and coordination. For example, our Accelerator Swing is a group swing ideal for stimulating the vestibular sense and making friends. Our ADA-compliant Inclusive Swing Seat offers extra support and security for a snug ride into the sky that kids can enjoy side by side. We even have an accessible zip line that uses the Inclusive Swing Seat, allowing everyone to fly from one area of the playground to the other.
6. Wheelchair-Accessible Equipment
Some children can’t transfer out of their wheelchairs, but they still want to play alongside their friends. Movement experiences are essential for them to develop coordination and balance. Choose a piece of equipment that a person in a wheelchair can easily roll onto, such as our Inclusive Whirl which is a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round. Also, consider our Alta Glide Flex — an accessible glider.
As you can see, there are many simple ways to make a new or existing playground accessible and inclusive, as well as plenty of fun!
Grants for Accessible and Inclusive Playground Equipment
If you’re concerned about budget, know there is plenty of financial assistance available to help you make your dream a reality. Many organizations support inclusive and accessible playgrounds and are happy to help and contribute some of their resources. For example, KaBOOM! is a nonprofit organization that offers several grant opportunities and resources to help build safe playgrounds. Feel free to explore our Playground Grant Resource Guide to learn more ways you can fund your inclusive and accessible playground.
View Inclusive Playground Equipment From Miracle Recreation
At Miracle Recreation, we offer high-quality, durable, safe and innovative playground equipment for kids of all abilities to enjoy. We take pride in finding solutions and making sure all kids get equal opportunities to grow and reach their potential. We design and build our equipment to meet or exceed safety standards while providing unique, thrilling and unforgettable play experiences for all. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, our custom design team is happy to create inclusive playground equipment straight from your imagination.
Need help with the next step? Our representatives are well-versed in ADA requirements and inclusive play design and are excited to assist you. View our inclusive and accessible playground equipment, and contact us today!