I hope all of you heard or read NPR articles on accessible playgrounds. Let Kids Play was pleased to have provided background information to the reporter working on the story. It is great that NPR has brought attention to the issue of playgrounds for everyone. After reading the comments on the story, I wanted to address some of the issues that have been raised by the articles.
It does not cost more to follow ADA
It is now the law that any new playground installed in a public space in the United States must be built to ADA standards. Playgrounds built to these standards cost NO more than a playground built prior to 2012. At this point in would be impossible to purchase playground equipment from a United States manufacturer without it meeting ADA. However, there is a difference between a playground that is ADA compliant and one that is truly accessible. Accessibleplayground.net’s playground directory only lists those playgrounds that exceed ADA.
There is a difference between ADA, Accessible and Inclusive
There is a difference between a playground that is ADA compliant, truly accessible and truly inclusive. ADA, when it comes to playgrounds, is primarily concerned with people using mobility devises. When a playground is built to ADA standards it lets a person who is using a wheelchair get in and around the playground. It enables that person to get on a module structure. It doesn’t necessarily enable that child to actually use any of the playground equipment.
An accessible playground goes beyond ADA compliance. A truly accessible playground will enable a person using a wheelchair to use the equipment. An accessible playground will have better surfacing enabling a person using a wheelchair to maneuver through the playground easier. It may have playground pieces that children with autism enjoy—things that move and/or make music. There may be quiet places for children to go and calm down. There may be pieces like an accessible swing seat and back to see-saws to enable a child with limited body support to enjoy this type of movement.
An inclusive playground goes beyond an accessible one in that it is designed to encourage children of all abilities to play with one another. This playground is one where every child who goes to the playground is challenged at their level. It is a playground that may have pieces like an accessible glider which enables a person using a wheelchair to experience movement, along with all of their typically developing peers.
It is all about the surfacing
It is the surfacing that can increase the cost of a playground. Safety regulations require that every playground have a safety surface. That surface can by loose fill or synthetic. Wood chips, (called Engineered Wood fiber by the industry), is the least expensive surfacing that provides safety and meets ADA. Here are the problems with wood chips:
- If the wood chips get deplenished, it is no longer safe.
- If the wood chips are not raked on a regular basis, they no longer meet ADA
- It is difficult, if not impossible, to push a wheelchair or stroller through wood chips
- Young children and some children with developmental disabilities will pick up the chips and mouth it
- It gets tracked everywhere including into the nearby buildings (like a school) and drives the maintenance staff crazy.
So there issues beyond accessibility to consider when looking to purchase the more expensive surfacing. Everyone agrees that synthetic surfaces are easier for a person in a wheelchair to maneuver. There are basically three types of synthetic surfaces, Pour-in-Place (which is what is described in the NPR articles), tiles and turf. There are advantages and disadvantages for all. When a community or school is making a decision about surfacing they should ask tons of questions about ADA compliance, HIC ratings (safety), freezing, and more. Here are some places to read more:
- Sofsurfaces (a tile manufacture) has a lot of good information on their site
- Religious Product News wrote a good article on surfacing
- Northwest Playground explains surfacing in an easy to understand manner.
- Accessibleplayground.net has many articles that address the issue of surfacing
All Inclusive Playground DO NOT need to be 15,000 sq. ft and $250,000+
I love Leathers and Associate playgrounds like Brooklyn’s Playground which was highlighted on NPR. They are creative, fun and challenging. They are big destination playgrounds. They make a great community asset. However, they are not appropriate for every community and every park.
You can make any playground more inclusive by laying out the equipment in a more effective way and selecting the equipment with an eye to inclusive. The Inclusive Play Design Guide gives you many different ways to increase inclusion.
To do it right, you do need to spend the extra money on surfacing; but again, any size playground can have this surfacing. Adding more ground level activities such as spinners, musical instruments, see-saws makes the playground more exciting for all kids and makes it more usable by children with a disability. Water and sand play can also be added in a small area and are fun for all ages and abilities.
Inclusive Playgrounds DO NOT need to be boring
I have seen plenty of boring accessible playgrounds; playgrounds with a lot of ramps and not a lot of challenge. But is not what it should be like. A good inclusive playground has activities that challenge 5-year-olds and 12-year-olds; has activities that are usable by children who use mobility devises and those who do not. A good inclusive playground is rich in sensory activities, social experiences and physical play. Here are just a few pictures of exciting inclusive playgrounds.
Accessibleplayground.net will still be offering its detailed directory
Accessibleplayground.net has been offering a directory of inclusive and accessible playgrounds for 5 years. In fact, a majority of the playgrounds listed on the NPR app were generated by accessibleplayground.net. In our directory there are over 800 entries from 8 different countries. We continue to add more every day. (We add over a dozen this weekend).
The difference between our directory and the new NPR directory is that we provide as much detail as we can find about the playground. If we can determine it, from the resources we can find, we will tell you what else is in the park, whether there is a restroom, what type of equipment is on the playground. We provide links for you to find more information.
Just like NPR’s app, you can add a playground that you know about to our directory. The difference is we will review the entry to make sure the information is correct prior to going live on the site. We hope that you will help us keep the directory as up-to-date as possible by providing us with new playgrounds and additional information about the playgrounds already listed.
Want to learn more? Visit these sites: