Universally Accessible Playgrounds

By Steven Kapp

Children should have equal opportunities to play. Playgrounds potentially offer children a place to enjoy exploring, and in doing so giving them exercise and further developing their physical, sensory, cognitive, and social skills. Yet playgrounds not designed to include children with disabilities in any of these developmental areas deny them access to, if not physically be in the space, fully participate in it.

Unfortunately, the legal accessibility mandate for playgrounds, the Americans with Disabilities Act, only applies to wheelchair uses, with basic guidelines that may still not enable an equitable experience for children with mobility disabilities. Children with these and various other disabilities need playgrounds that go beyond mere compliance with the law, that proactively provide a fun environment for everyone.

Many are trying to meet this challenge. A growing number of public parks have, and organizations build, what they call Universally Accessible Playgrounds. According to the principles of Universal Design, for something – as concrete as the built environment or as abstract as ideas – to work for everyone, it must be flexible enough to be adapted for individual needs. For example, children’s sensory sensitivities may clash, as one may enjoy and need a lot of stimulation while another finds much input overwhelming, and this can vary across all senses or even for the same child depending on context. Therefore, a truly inclusive playground allows each child to choose how to engage in it.

Some children may wish to engage with peers but not know how or are unsuccessful when they try. For these children, an accessible playground experience extends beyond the physical structure, and the design may include knowledgeable adults who help to facilitate positive peer interaction. The strategies and resources offered by Remaking Recess may help to make this possible.

For further information on Universally Accessible Playgrounds, Landscape Structures is a good place to start: http://www.playlsi.com/ Among its resources is a site that provides a directory of Accessible Playgrounds in the U.S. and Canada: http://www.accessibleplayground.net/