A Response to NPR: Accessible Playgrounds

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:


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.

See more pictures on our Pinterest Page

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:

School Year 2013 starts with of new accessible playgrounds

Check out all of the new accessible playgrounds that have opened over the last month or two:

Sunnydale Park in Bloomingdale, IL

 Bruce Ladner Memorial Park in Gulfport, MS

Bergman Elementary School in Manhattan, NY

West Park in Nampa, ID

Hanover School Memorial Park in Hanover Township, OH

BRAX and the Kiwanis Miracle Playground in Wilmington, NC

Sir Wilfrid Laurier Elementary in Vancouver, BC

Sir Wilfrid Laurier Annex in Vancouver, BC



Children of all abilities will be able to play in Port Coquitlam, BC,
civic playgrounds in the future, thanks to the city’s leading-edge policy.
City Council adopted a Corporate Accessible Play Spaces Policy on June 10 with the goal of
making all future play spaces and equipment safe and accessible for people of all abilities – starting
with the playground upgrades at Lions Park later this year.

Port Coquitlam is the first community in the Lower Mainland and one of the first in the province to
adopt a formal policy of this type.

“It’s important that all children in our community have opportunities to play, interact with each other
and enjoy being outdoors, regardless of their ability,” Mayor Greg Moore said. “We wouldn’t build a
school with steps that kids with physical disabilities couldn’t get into. We don’t build communities any
more that way. Yet we have these barriers in places where kids go to play. This was the right thing
to do.”

The need for the policy was identified following an in-house review of the city’s accessible play
spaces and requests from the community. When Parks & Recreation staff contacted other
municipalities to learn about their policies, they found few, if any, had any formal guidelines.
Port Coquitlam’s new policy states that any new or substantially renovated city playgrounds will
meet or exceed the Canadian Standards Association’s standard for accessible play spaces (Annex
H) throughout their lifetime. Annex H provides specifications for playground elements (such as
layout, circulation paths and play components) that are incorporated in the planning process.
While the new policy will not require the retrofitting of existing playgrounds or be imposed on others
who build playgrounds in Port Coquitlam – such as the school district and community groups – the
city encourages the use of the standards in all playgrounds built in the community.

“We’ve already been moving in this direction by adding accessible equipment and surfaces in our
new and renovated playgrounds,” said Cllr. Mike Forrest, chair of the Healthy Committee
Committee. “We wanted to show leadership in this area by formally adopting these standards, not
just complying with them voluntarily. It’s a strong message about how our city values people of all

Being wheelchair accessible is only one aspect of accessible playground design. The planning of
accessible playgrounds must also consider the needs of children with physical, cognitive, seeing
and hearing disabilities, as well as children with complex developmental behavioural conditions,
such as autism.

Accessible playgrounds include barrier-free equipment, increased maneuvering space, accessible
surfacing and paths, and the use of ramps to access elevated play components. While certain
elements can add to the size and cost of the playground, costs can be contained when they are
incorporated in the design stage.

Playgrounds can still contain elements such as slides and climbing structures, but emphasis will be
placed on ensuring children with disabilities are able to enjoy many of the play components. The
goal is for all children to be able to play on or around the accessible playground equipment, while
accommodating the play needs of children with disabilities and caregivers who may themselves
have disabilities.

For more information:

Todd Gross
Manager, Parks & Services
City of Port Coquitlam Parks & Recreation
tel.: 604-927-5428
e-mail: grosst@portcoquitlam.ca

Water Play Is Fun For All – The Play and Playground News Center

It’s almost summer! It took a long time to get here this year, but it is finally here. For me, summer has always meant swimming, sprinklers, and sunbathing. I love water. A water exercise class has been the only exercise I have kept up with. I just love going to the pool and reading a book (with sunscreen on, of course), and then jumping in once I get too hot.

There are many reasons I love the water. It is probably the same reasons so many people love the water. Playing in water has restorative properties: it alleviates stress and helps to regulate emotions. Many of us take a long bath to relieve stress and take refreshing showers when we are overwhelmed. I get my most creative ideas when showering.

Read more at Water Play Is Fun For All – The Play and Playground News Center.

KaBOOM! playground builds all-inclusive playground

A playground for children designed by children.

More than 200 volunteers joined forces on Friday to build a new all-inclusive playground so that kids with and without disabilities can play together.

Mixing up concrete takes some sweat and hard work but volunteer Dan Weaver says it’s worth the price of the pain to help the kids.

“These kids aren’t just going to be able to roll up to the apparatus and watch other kids play, they will be able to get in there and play themselves and that’s fantastic,” says Weaver.

The goal of KaBOOM! and the McDonald’s Foundation, with the help of volunteers, is to build a handicapped accessible playground outside the Community Support Services building in record time

KaBOOM! playground built in Joplin – KOAM TV 7.

Children’s Treatment Centre opens accessible playground

A giant caterpillar, big bee and behemoth dragonfly are crawling with giggling children as officials spout the hows and who’s of a new fully accessible playground.

Unfazed, a half dozen children balance, climb, swing, slide and spiderweb their way through the nature-themed structures at the Children’s Treatment Centre of Chatham-Kent (CTCCK) Wednesday afternoon.

Best playground in C-K – bar none | Local | News | Chatham Daily News.

11th graders build playground for students with special ne – WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports


A group of eleventh graders from Central High School spent their free time in a productive way.

On Friday, they finished building a playground for students with special needs at Phenix City Elementary School.

When this project began, the elementary school only had one handicapped swing, which was broken.

Now, the swing is fixed and two new swings were installed along with other accessible playground equipment.

Local 11th graders build playground for students with special ne – WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports.

Proposed Sensory Garden and Inclusive Playground undertakes fundraising

The Wheaton, IL Park District, Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, Kiwanis Club of Wheaton, and the Forest Preserve of DuPage County have come together to create a new and unique Sensory Garden and Inclusive Playground.  They have big plans, which include:

  • A playground area
  • A sound and scent garden
  • Water play
  • A shelter and restroom building to accommodate extended visits.
  • An accessible baseball field, to allow children of all abilities to have the traditional ballfield experience

In order to build this the group is undertaking a variety of fundraising.  They are looking for corporations and individuals to sponsor specific section of the playspace.  They have put together a nice brochure explaining the sponsorship opportunities.

They had a spring bulb sale using Flower Power.

They partnered with a new business in town. Nothing Bundt Cakes celebrated their grand opening by donating 20% of their proceeds to the Sensory Garden project.  The planning group also used this opportunity as an informational event.  They had volunteers at the bakery throughout the opening weekend to answer questions about the playground and to generate excitement.

They have found on-line contests where they have engaged the community to vote for this project.  They tried for the Discover The Forest and Get Your Community Outdoors grant and while they did not win, they were able to generate additional community support.

Learn more about this project at their website and Like them on Facebook 

Share with us unique ways that you have raised funds for your playground!

Play Equipment for Special Needs Kids Unveiled | This is Alton

Brand new play equipment for youngsters with special needs has recently been installed in Alton’s Public Gardens, just in time for the Easter holidays.

The scheme forms the second phase of a refurbishment of the site, Alton Town Council’s busiest play ground. It includes a roundabout that can take wheelchairs and pushchairs, two swings with secure harnesses and a third swing (which requires a RADAR key to unlock it) that can accommodate a wheelchair-bound user.

It is believed that the swings are possibly a first for a public open space in Hampshire, whilst it is the second such roundabout for wheelchair users in Alton, the first having been installed by the Council in Anstey Park a few years ago.

Read rest of article: Play Equipment for Special Needs Kids Unveiled | This is Alton.

In 2012, Ireland opened its first inclusive playground

President Higgins also opened Ireland’s first special needs playground in Navan, County Meath recently, an adapted space specially designed for sensory exploration with full disabled access. The playground is named ‘Is Féidir Linn’ which translates from Gaelic as ‘We are able.’ Built at a cost of €45,000 the project would be easily replicated throughout the country given the cost is not significantly different from that of a standard modern playground.


The playground includes some very unique pieces of playground equipment as you can see in this video.  Pictures of the opening are available here.