All kids need to be able to play. When kids play, it helps their brains develop. Kids who never have access to work on their gross motor skills when they are very young, their brains will never fully develop. Kids need these opportunities before they reach the age of six. Playing at the playground is one-way children can learn socialization skills as well. The problem is that if you are putting in a public playground, it needs to be accessible to kids with disabilities. From putting in wheelchair swings to making sure the area is safe for all kids, these tips can help you create a welcoming space for all children.
- Know the law. In 2010, the United States Department of Justice made changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Their changes were aimed at making al facilities more accessible to people with disabilities. This has impacted many kinds of facilities all over the nation. Playground design was impacted more than other kinds of facilities. The new rules do not apply to attractions at amusement parks or areas built for children under the age of two. Any parts of a playground that will be used by kids of different ages should be designed per the ADA rules. This applies to any remodeling of the playground facilities.
- Get the number of accessible parts right. For the most part, the ADA rules are concerned with making sure enough of a playground is accessible to kids with disabilities. The kinds of components that were focused on by the ADA are swings, activity panels, slides, and other parts. When there is one component that cannot be used by children with disabilities, other accessible areas need to be added.
- Do not isolate handicap accessible playgrounds from other parts of the facility. The ADA rules also say that the accessible components need to be a part of the overall structure and need to be spread out over the entire playground. For example, swing sets with wheelchair swings or handicap swing chairs should be a part of the overall swing set. Part of the reasoning is that kids with disabilities should be able to play and socialize with all of the children in the area, not just ones with disabilities.
- You do not have to make every component totally accessible to all. One example that has been given is that of a sandbox. If you have your sandbox made to allow children with disabilities to get into the sandbox to play, it is accessible enough, per the ADA rules.
- There are different standards for ground level and elevated parts of your playground. Because it is easier to people with disabilities to use and enjoy the areas of the facility that are on the ground level, you need to make at least one-quarter of the components sit on the ground level. If you are going for full compliance, you need to raise that to half of the components at the playground. For larger play facilities, more components need to be made at the ground level. It is easy for a playground developer to place components on the ground level without actually making them accessible to kids with disabilities.
- Use the right flooring materials. It can be easy to place everything on the ground but to place it all on surfaces that make it hard or impossible to reach by kids with disabilities. For example, areas with larger chips of wood can be impossible for kids in wheelchairs to navigate. Using playground rubber turf can make a big difference here.
- It is possible to make a playground fully accessible to all children. Elevated areas can be reachable to kids with mobility issues with ramps. Swing sets can have wheelchair swings to let all kids play there. It is important to also follow regulations for ramps and other additions to playgrounds that are fully accessible to all children. If the ramps are not feasible, you can also install lifts. There are pros and cons to each option. These all need to be carefully weighed out.
From adding wheelchair swings to using rubber for the playground surface, it is possible to build spaces where all kids can play and grow.