Top 10 considerations when designing an accessible playground

Below is an excerpt from Technical Guidance relating to Playground Layout & Design produced by Association of Play Industries (API)  in cooperation with  Kids,  and Register of Play Inspectors Internationa.  All three of these organizations are located in the United Kingdom.

In this excerpt, dealing specifically about accessible playgrounds are some key thoughts about developing truly inclusive playgrounds where all children play together.  I would encourage anyone who is thinking of designing an accessible playground to put these ideas on the table at the  very beginning of planning and return to the concepts throughout the planning process.  I have recapped at the end of the post 10 key items that can be taken from this report.

Accessible play spaces for disabled and nondisabled children

In general it is really important to understand that children’s abilities, in general, are very diverse. When considering disability it is equally important to remember this, and that it is much wider than physical impairments. It is essential to think about all types of impairment (sensory, physical, communication etc). Not all children use a wheelchair and a play space should reflect this diversity and individuality of children and their play. That’s why it is important to consult with local users including disabled children in the local area to see what adjustments they could suggest to make the area more accessible.

The DDA Act 1995* defines disability as any mental or physical condition that affects one’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities. These are activities which are carried out by most people on a fairly regular and frequent basis. The term is not intended to include activities which are normal only for a particular person or group of people, such as playing a musical instrument, or a sport, to a professional standard or performing a skilled or specialist task at work. However, someone who is affected in such a specialised way but is also affected in normal day-to-day activities would be covered by this part of the definition. The test of whether impairment affects normal day-to-day activities is whether it affects one of the broad categories of capacity listed in Schedule 1 to the Act. These are:

  • mobility;
  • manual dexterity;
  • physical co-ordination;
  • continence;
  • ability to lift, carry or otherwise move everyday objects;
  • speech, hearing or eyesight;
  • memory or ability to concentrate, learn or understand; or
  • perception of the risk of physical danger.

The key is to provide a space with a good range of activities. These should provide a balance of ‘easier’ more accessible elements with those that are more challenging. (For a play space to be truly inclusive it must include the challenging items otherwise users looking for this will go elsewhere). It is recognised that it will never be possible, or desirable, for all users to access all equipment or other attractions.

As well as the children using the play space it is also important to consider the needs of parents or carers.

Also getting access to space itself, if not thought out, can sometimes be a barrier. Research has shown that it is often the route from the nearest parking place to the play space that is the greatest barrier to inclusion.

Read the entire report from API

*The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which makes it unlawful to discriminate against people in respect of their disabilities in relation to employment, the provision of goods and services, education and transport. It is a civil rights law.

Here is my interpretation/recap of what the report from API says and what we as designers of playspaces should take into consideration:

  1. Children’s abilities, regardless of their diagnosis are vary diverse.
  2. When considering disability, remember that all disabilities are not physical.
  3. It is essential to think about all types of impairment (sensory, physical, communication etc)
  4. It is essential to bring people with disabilities, parents who are raising children with disabilities, children with disabilities and other stakeholders into the design process.
  5. Your playground should have a large variety of activities to attract children of all ages, heights and abilities as well as differing interests.
  6. There should provide a balance of ‘easier’ more accessible playground elements with those that are more challenging.
  7. If there are not playground elements that provide challenge, some children will go elsewhere, making the playground less inclusive or they will create their own challenge, making the playground more dangerous.
  8. It should be recognized that it will never be possible, or desirable, for all users (whether they have a disability or not) to access all equipment or other attractions.
  9. The needs of parents and other caregivers should  be taken into consideration when making design decisions.
  10. Getting to the playground can be a huge barrier in of itself and people must be able to negotiate their way through the playground using their usual means of mobility.
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