How to Intentionally Design an Inclusive Playground


Sister sitting next to disabled brother in wheelchair at playground

The need for inclusivity continues to grow in our society. From work environments and politics to schools and sports, diversity and inclusion is a fundamental part of the values and culture in our nation. The same can be said for one of human’s most basic functions — play. We must put an emphasis on creating and providing equality to everyone through play.

To take a step back, we understand the importance of play in a child’s development. Research shows there are 4 main benefits of play for a child’s development: Physical, Cognitive, Social, and Emotional. For more on this topic, read our blog The Benefits of Play for Child Development. So if play is truly essential in the proper development of a child, isn’t it imperative that we provide access to play for all children, no matter their abilities?

As a society, we need to break down barriers that prevent those with special needs, whether adults or kids, from having access to such a simple life activity and to help them always feel included. According to this article from Landscape Structures, “Giving all children the opportunity to play together teaches them about their differences and their commonalities, thus eliminating bias." 1 in 5 people in the United States have some sort of disability, yet most playgrounds aren’t built to accommodate differences in ability.

So, how do you provide an environment that truly encourages everyone — no matter their age or ability — to connect with each other through the simple act of play? The first and most important thing you need to do is to communicate early in the planning process that you are dedicated to making inclusion an important part of the playground or park. This will set the foundation for other considerations and decisions that will need to be made throughout the process. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of things you should consider when designing your next inclusive playground project.

  1. Easy Access

    Provide a large, handicap accessible parking lot with a separate drop-off area for vans and special needs equipment. Include easy-to-read signage to navigate around the parking lot, wheelchair ramps, paths, etc. Access routes should be at least five feet wide and easily allow for two wheelchairs to pass each other.

  2. ADA Accessible vs. Inclusion

    Playgrounds need to be more than just wheelchair accessible. For example, rather than just providing a space for a wheelchair to be closer to the swing, why not create a swing that can hold a wheelchair? A truly inclusive playground goes beyond the basic ADA requirements — just because someone can access the playground doesn’t mean they can truly enjoy it once they’re there.

  3. Unique & Engaging Design

    Integrate ADA requirements into the design and make it cohesive with the entire playground. For example, add an engaging and themed visual path in the playground surfacing to help provide guidance for those with visual impairments.

  4. Innovative Play Equipment

    There are many innovative equipment products on the market, such as the We-Go-Swing, the first no-transfer inclusive swing. Get creative and find new ways for kids in wheelchairs to explore nature that they wouldn’t normally be able to experience, such as elevated sand/water tables.

  5. Thoughtful Surroundings

    Parents of autistic children are often hesitant to bring their child to an open playground, so consider adding a fence around the space to avoid children from wondering away. Also, create a separate space for a child to retreat to if they need a break, which is also great for kids on the autism spectrum.

  6. Choose a Playground Surfacing Product that Supports Accessibility

    One of the most important considerations is the playground’s surfacing. Choosing the right product is imperative for both easy access and safety for all users. Natural grass or loose materials tends to be challenging for wheelchairs to navigate around. A poured-in-place product, like our SpectraPour safety surfacing, offers ideal shock-absorbing qualities that make it the safest option on the market. The base layer provides protection for high-risk fall areas and the top layer prevents the surface from breaking down and creating a trip hazard or uneven surface for wheelchairs.

For your next playground project, consider the many benefits of a truly inclusive space for everyone to enjoy and spend time connecting. Contact us to learn how the right playground surfacing product can play an important role in an inclusive playground design.
Contact Us