Play is an essential component in both the lives of children
and adults. Play directly affects our physical, mental, emotional,
and social well being. Through play, we are able to define who
we are and who we want to be. We are able to improve our physical
fitness, build skills, work on problem solving, practice communication,
set goals, share expectations, understand roles, and develop friendships.
Because a child or an adult has a disability, does not mean their
need for recreation is lessened. While play promotes self-awareness,
inclusion promotes community-awareness by involving both people
with and without disabilities.
Through inclusion we are able to develop greater understanding
of one another, our similarities, our differences, our likes,
our dislikes. We are able to develop a sense of value for each
individual as we grow the skills and attitudes needed to live
in a culturally diverse, enriched community. Inclusive play facilitates
a non-threatening environment that enables us to develop, grow
and learn from one another at various paces.
Inclusive play areas promote social integration. While one child
may not be able to climb or swing as high as another, an inclusive,
accessible play area will still enable both children to communicate
and learn about one another and from one another. The point where
the play area stops being accessible, is also the point where
their ability to continue learning from one another stops. This
also becomes the point where misperceptions have greater ability
When the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990,
it was accompanied by accessibility guidelines for the built environment
(the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines--ADAAG).
Unfortunately, the standards did not yet address those environments
unique to recreation such as sports facilities, outdoor developed
areas, trails, beaches, swimming pools, golf courses and playgrounds.
To develop accessibility standards for recreation facilities
and outdoor developed areas, the U.S. Architectural & Transportation
Barriers Compliance Board (U.S. Access Board) appointed an advisory
committee in 1993. The Recreation Access Advisory Committee submitted
proposed guidelines (Recommendations for Accessibility Guidelines
for Recreation Facilities and Outdoor Developed Areas) to
the U.S. Access Board in 1994. During the Advance Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking (ANPRM), public comment on the proposed standards for
playgrounds revealed a lack of consensus on some major issues
regarding play areas. Thus, the U.S. Access Board initiated application
of regulatory negotiation to supplement the rulemaking process.
A Regulatory Negotiation Committee on Accessibility Guidelines
for Play Areas was established in 1996. The Regulatory Negotiation
Committee reached consensus on the accessibility guidelines for
newly constructed and altered play areas covered by the ADA, submitting
a final report to the U.S. Access Board in July 1997. In
the summer of 1998, the U.S. Access Board issued a Notice of Proposed
Rule for Play Areas. To this date, the Notice of Propose
Rulemaking (NPRM) serves as the most current available information
for playground access and should be referred to as guidance in
the new construction and alteration of playgrounds. It should
be noted however, that this NPRM, similar to ADAAG
and the Recommendations for Recreation Facilities and Outdoor
Developed Areas, are minimum requirements. Designing to exceed
minimum requirements certainly increases the number of users that
can effectively use and benefit from the facility and program.
The National Center on Accessibility offers technical assistance
to recreation providers. Below are some of the most frequently
asked questions. Please note, this is not legal advice,
merely suggestions based on the most current information available
to provide optimum access for children with disabilities and adult
supervisors with disabilities on and through play areas.
Does every element or piece of equipment on the playground
need to be accessible?
A playground that is accessible and allows for integration is
a playground that when viewed in its entirety provides like opportunities
for children of varying abilities. This does not mean that
each and every feature of play event has to be usable by every
individual. It means like experiences must be available.
For instance, if a playground which offers play experiences such
as swinging, sliding, and climbing, the same, or similar experiences
should be provided for all. The opportunity to participate
in each play activity provides a quality play experience for each
A playground should not just be accessible for children.
It should be accessible for adults with disabilities as well.
At times there may be teachers, parents, or even grandparents
at the play area that may have disabilities and need to access
different elements of the play area should children using
the equipment need support, supervision, or first aid.
Most importantly, an accessible play environment allows for social
integration to still take place. Children naturally form
play groups. Play areas that are inaccessible prohibit children
with disabilities from fully participating in the group.
How do I know the changes I make are the ones wanted by consumers
that use the playground?
Ask them! It is very important to include consumers throughout
the entire planning process. It is important to get parents
of children with disabilities and parents with disabilities from
the community involved in the planning process.
What if two consumers have different ideas on the plans for
Consumers should be involved throughout the process to provide
their suggestions and ideas. Consumers can be excellent
resources to catch details that might have been overlooked or
to suggest creative approaches/solutions. However, just
because a person has a disability does not necessarily mean they
are experts on accessibility. They may know their own abilities
and what will or will not work for them, but may not know the
needs of others with disabilities. They also may not be
completely familiar with access standards. For this reason,
it is best to get as many people as possible with various disabilities
involved. Keep in mind that consumer input is just that,
suggestions, the ultimate decision is up to the agency.
What part of the Americans with Disabilities Act addresses
Under Title II of the ADA, it is specified that all state and
local government services, programs and activities must be made
accessible. Play areas for public use, such as in a park,
are considered programs under the ADA and required to be accessible.
Managers of playgrounds can be held legally responsible for the
provision of accessible playground opportunities for children
with disabilities. Moreover, under the ADA after January
26, 1992, all new construction must be built accessible.
Please remember the intent of the law is that no person, solely
on the basis of a disability, can be denied participation in,
or be denied the benefits of programs, services or activities.
Privately held businesses providing public accommodations with
playgrounds are covered by Title III of the ADA. Playgrounds
that you find at fast food restaurants, day care centers, and
those indoor playgrounds that you pay admission to use are required
under Title III to provide programs and activities, such as playgrounds,
that are accessible.
I have changes that need to be made now on my playgrounds,
but wouldn't it be better to wait until the standards are out?
It is not recommend that you wait until the standards are finalized
to make changes toward access for several reasons. If you
have equipment that is in need of replacement or renovation and
you wait until the standards are out, you may be creating a safety
hazard. Even though standards for play areas are not complete,
there is a legal obligation to make programs, services, and activities
accessible. Playground owners and managers can be held responsible
for the provision of access to such services; not doing so runs
the risk of complaint.
I already have existing equipment that is not accessible, can
I just add accessible equipment in a nearby area?
The intent of the ADA, just as many other civil rights laws,
is to eliminate segregation. It is clear that participation
by people with disabilities should be in an integrated setting.
Therefore, when equipment is being considered, it should be examined
to be sure all children can use it together. One benefit
of playgrounds and play, in general, is that it encourages social
interactions among children. Some added equipment that is
accessible is of course better than no accessible equipment at
all. However, if there is an opportunity to provide equipment
inclusive of the entire play setting, that is encouraged.
If I make changes in an effort to make the playground more
accessible now and the standards are something different, do I
have to immediately make changes again?
If you are designing a new playground at this time, you are responsible
to use the most current knowledge and information and make decisions
based on that information. Facilities constructed prior
to developed standards will be evaluated based on the best available
information at the time of construction.
What kind of signs do I need on an accessible playground and
where is the best placement?
Many facilities, after providing accessibility, place signs on
entrances or posts displaying the international symbol of accessibility.
In some cases, signs have been placed directly on the accessible
equipment itself. Sometimes signs have "handicapped
playground added. In general, letting people know
that the facility is accessible is all that is necessary.
When signs like the symbol of access are placed on equipment,
it often triggers unnecessary labeling of the children who use
it and discourages integrated use.
Iím not an accessibility specialist, how am I supposed to know
how to select equipment and surfaces that meet requirements?
Am I safe by selecting products that indicate they are ADA approved
or claim to be accessible?
Some manufacturers of playground equipment and surface materials
claim in their promotional materials that their products are ADA
approved. There is NO such approval. No organization
or agency has any authority to give ADA approval for any product
Which should I use, ramps or transfer points when designing
an accessible playground?
Some equipment manufacturers are stating that equipment with ramps
is the best way to provide accessibility, while others are promoting
equipment with transfer points. Several parents of children
with disabilities, who have shared their experiences with NCA,
have indicated that some children can use the transfer points
while others find ramps more accessible to them. This seems
to lead towards a concept of equipment that has incorporated both
ramps and transfer points in its design. However, it is
important to note that there may be adults with disabilities such
as teachers or parents that may need access to the equipment too,
especially if first aid or supervision is required.
I have never seen a child that uses a wheelchair using our
playground. How can I justify doing major changes for just
a few children?
You may not see children with disabilities using existing playgrounds,
however the reason is most likely not because of lack of desire,
but probably due to barriers preventing them from using the playground.
Most people without disabilities can remember countless hours
spent playing on playgrounds. This is an opportunity for
fun and social interaction that is denied to many children with
disabilities. It is estimated that over 49 million Americans
have disabilities. Some of those are children, and some
live in your community. These children have the right to
play as much as any other children.
Parents and grandparents also supervise their children at playgrounds.
If a parent with a disability needed to get to their child, they
would need to be able to access all parts of the area.
Efforts toward accessibility will not just benefit people with
disabilities. Accessibility also makes it easier for many
other people. Universal design, design that is usable by
everyone can aid parents with strollers, grandparents, toddlers,
people with temporary disabilities, and many others.
A final consideration to justify the cost is that it is the law,
to provide the same opportunities for all children regardless
Safety and accessibility seem to oppose one another.
Are there ways to meet both needs?
Yes, there are ways to provide safe, accessible and challenging
play environments. This is a new area and it poses a challenge
to all managers, but with creative planning the challenge can
be met. There are various documents that address both issues
by agencies like the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM)
F1487, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the National
Recreation and Park Association, and NRPAís National Playground
It is difficult to find manufacturers that have equipment that
will make an integrated playground, why isnít there more to choose
This is a result of supply and demand. The needs and orders
of playground managers drive the equipment market. At this
point, manufacturers are just beginning to hear access requests.
If managers demand that any item considered for purchase meet
the needs of children with varying abilities, then manufacturers
will respond and make more accessible equipment.
How can I get started on a new playground?
The first thing to remember is to include user input in your planning
process. Donít randomly go through the equipment catalog
picking and choosing, this process has a tendency to lead to the
selection of equipment based on appearance rather than by play
value and experience. Instead start with the users to assist
in determining what types of experiences would be most beneficial
to all users on this playground. From that point, include
the vendor in the planning process. Ask the vendor to suggest
different types of equipment to meet various types of experiences
(i.e. swinging, balancing, climbing, perching, role playing).
Most playground equipment vendors have the capability of designing
play component blueprints. Ask to see a variety of designs
that incorporate the experiences and equipment you have selected
for the play area. Also ask them to describe accessible
features and routes of travel.
But how can I make sure the vendor and/or the architect is
coming up with an accessible playground design?
The burden really falls on the playground manager/owner to not
only be able to read the playground design but also to see how
it will look before it is actually built. Essentially, you
will want to look for a comprehensive design that allows both
children and adults (if a rescue or assistance is needed) to access
the equipment and especially a play component. Once the
design is complete, ask the vendor for playground sites they have
designed with similar features that you can visit. Visit
those sites and bring your potential users along. Be sure
to bring an accessibility specialist and both a child and an adult
who use wheelchairs and/or have other mobility impairments.
This can be the real test of whether what seems to be fun, usable,
accessible equipment on paper is usable, fun and accessible in
Here are just a few questions you can pose to playground manufacturers
when purchasing equipment:
What makes the accessible element accessible? Has it been
used and tested by children with disabilities? Are any of
these elements located in your area that can be reviewed?
Are all of the accessible play elements incorporated into the
main path of travel and fully integrated throughout the play area
so as not to create segregated situations?
Are the accessible play elements joined to accessible routes?
What form(s) of access is provided to the play component?
- Transfer points?
- Both transfer points & ramps?
For each element and experience at the play area that is not
accessible, is at least one accessible element provided that will
offer the same or similar experience? Are the reach ranges and
clear widths appropriate for the designed age group and usable
by children with disabilities?
Choosing playground surfaces is one of the most challenging tasks
when designing playgrounds due to the need to balance requirements
for safety with requirements for accessibility. For safety,
the surface must be resilient to lessen the severity of injuries,
while an accessible surface requires enough firmness and stability
to allow travel without exerting much effort.
Listed below are a few questions that may help managers evaluate
a product to determine if it meets accessibility needs.
This is not an all-inclusive list, its purpose is to start managers
asking access questions, and help them to become familiar with
how to evaluate surfaces.
Does the surface meet ASTM and other safety requirements for
childrenís environments when used in a fall zone?
In all instances, safety should be the primary determining factor
as to whether or not the surface is appropriate in a particular
area. ASTM and CPSC have specific safety requirements for
surfaces used in play environments. All surfaces utilized
should meet these requirements in all weather conditions (i.e.
rain, freezing, extreme heat).
When applied, is the surface a unitary or loose fill?
Public input will show you that unitary surfaces (rubber matting,
poured-in-place, etc) are easier to walk or roll over than loose
fill (processed wood fiber systems, gravel, sand, etc.).
But which should I use........unitary or loose fill surfacing?
There is no doubt about it, a unitary surface is much more usable
by a greater number of people, both children and adults.
For primary access routes (access routes including entry to the
play area and connecting activities), the needs of a greater number
of people can be met by using unitary surface. However,
the decision of which to use for primary and secondary surfaces
is ultimately up to the individual owner.
If it is a unitary surface, does the applied surface have
a tendency to crack, loosen, or become uprooted from its footings
with fluctuating climates or wear?
If the unitary surface is not applied with proper consideration
for drainage and climate extremes, it can crack, buckle, or even
break away. This will impose not only an accessibility problem
as the surface will no longer maintain a level cross-slope, but
also a safety problem as children may trip in areas that have
buckled or fall in areas where the originally safety-tested product
no longer meets safety requirements.
Is the unitary surface applied with an adhesive, and if so,
what is itís staying power?
Unitary surfaces like rubber matting are usually applied with
adhesives directly to concrete foundations. After one or
two seasons, they may start to shift causing unnecessary ruts
between sections where a child could trip or the wheel of a person
who uses a wheelchair could become stuck. If the unitary
surface is used with a loose fill surface, the loose fill can
also wedge between sections of the unitary surface and the foundation,
causing the adhesive to let go and exposing dangerous, hard surfaces
to the play environment.
If considering a loose fill surface, do footsteps or a wheelchair
leave impressions, ruts, or tracks?
This test can imply that the consistency of the surface may not
be firm or stable enough for a child or an adult to travel without
exerting considerable physical effort.
For a loose fill surface, what ongoing maintenance issues
need to be considered?
Loose fill has a tendency to spill over into other areas with
heavy travel or play. It also has a tendency to wear away
in heavily used areas (e.g. under swings and at the bottom of
slides). Thus, it may need to be replaced on a regular basis
to maintain the required depth of consistency to meet both accessibility
and safety requirements.