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:

ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal

The Institute for Human Centered Design has development a check list for readily achievable barrier removal for existing buildings.  They will be coming out with a checklist that deals specifically with recreational areas in January.  This checklist is still worthwhile in getting and adding to your resources as it deals with:

  • Parking
  • Entrance Route
  • Curb Cuts
  • Ramps leading to your building or space
  • Dining Surfaces
  • Restrooms
  • Drinking Fountains

The checklist takes all the legal jargon in ADA and makes it easy to understand.  You will be able to make good decisions when upgrading or developing a new playground if you are familiar with the material in the checklists.

This checklist was produced by the New England ADA Center, a project of the Institute for Human Centered Design and a member of the ADA National Network. This checklist was developed under a grant from the Department of Education, NIDRR grant number H133A060092-09A. However the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

Questions or comments on the checklist contact the New England ADA Center at 617-695-0085 voice/tty or ADAinfo@NewEnglandADA.org

For the full set of checklists, including the checklists for recreation facilities (coming in January 2012) visit www.ADAchecklist.org

Chicago Park Districts describe what accessible means to them

The Chicago Park District does an excellent job describing to their constituents what they mean when they talk about an accessible playground. Many park districts say that their parks are accessible, but what they mean is that they are ADA compliant, which does not mean that they are truly usable for children with disabilities.

First on their home page, under other Chicago Park District resources, accessibility is the first link.  It does help that accessible starts with the letter A.  When you click that link it takes you to a page with two further links.  One is a list of all of their accessible playgrounds.   The other link is a description of what features you might find at one of their playgrounds.

It starts out, “The listed Accessible Playgrounds will have a combination of the features below. The soft surface feature appears at all Accessible Playground locations.”  It then goes on to describe surfacing, swings, drinking fountains, bench pads, picnic tables, transfer platforms, ramps, play panels, ground features, stainless steel slides, and sway funs.

You can find their explanation at Chicago Park District Accessible Playground Features. The pdf has many wonderful pictures of their playgrounds. There are 90 of these parks throughout the city.

The park district also offers 15 accessible beach walks and 70 accessible pool features.  They have plans to add accessible fitness equipment to many of the fitness centers they operate.  There also many waterparks/spray parks within the Chicago Park District system, which often just my their nature are accessible.  There are plans to add more of these types of parks in the next few years.