Inclusive playgrounds are more than just a fad or trend in parks and recreation. New products, surfacing and designs have emerged to make play areas accessible for individuals of all ages and abilities — helping to bridge the gap from traditional playgrounds and equipment, which cannot always be used by kids with mobility challenges, or those who use an assistive device, such as a walker or wheelchair.
Most importantly: Inclusive playgrounds are not just for people with disabilities or different abilities. They are designed to be a place where EVERYONE in the community feels welcome to have fun and enjoy the thrill of play together.
Projects of all different sizes and budgets can use creative solutions to improve the accessibility of their playground. Read on to see the top suggestions to make an existing playground more inclusive with accessible playground equipment.
Why Are Inclusive Playgrounds Important?
Many people think of accessibility in terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ADA requirements for public places. But making places accessible to everyone in the community is not helpful if they are only designed to be used and enjoyed by the “average” person. In fact, approximately 61 million people in the United States live with some form of disability, according to the CDC.
An inclusive playground does more than remove physical barriers. These are places where all kids and caregivers can participate fully in the environment around them, despite any challenges or perceived limitations. No one is left out!
The top reasons to make your existing playground more inclusive are:
- Empowering people with disabilities
- Helping kids build friendships and learn to embrace diversity
- Encouraging healthy activities that help children develop social and motor skills
- Creating a space where everyone feels welcome
The best news for park directors is that you do not need to start from scratch to incorporate inclusive elements into your playground. Begin with the basics and continue to add pieces over time if a fully inclusive playground is not in the budget. We can help you get started!
Budget-Friendly Ideas to Improve Playground Accessibility
For schools, HOAs and small neighborhood playgrounds, a large-scale renovation may not be in budget. There are other smart and economical choices which can make a big impact on the accessibility of your playground, such as:
- Adding ramps. Ramps are an important alternative to stairs, especially for people who use a wheelchair. They can also be less of a tripping hazard for little ones!
In addition to offering ramps at the ground level, such as the entrance and exit, play structures which include ramps make it possible for kids with different abilities to go up to a lookout point or the top of the slide with their friends. Designed with Transition opportunities to allow kids to transition safely from a wheelchair to a slide or other equipment!
- Considering basic safety features. A fenced-in play area is helpful for parents and caregivers, especially when they have a loved one with autism who may be more likely to wander. Surfacing such as safety tile, poured in place rubber and turf provides a flat, unitary surface which is wheelchair accessible, stable and safe. And last but not least, shade structures help keep the playground area cooler and allow users who struggle to self-regulate their body temperature to take a quick break from the sun.
- Incorporating simple play equipment. If a new play structure is not in the budget, consider installing new equipment for ground level play, such as an activity panel! Activity panels typically feature a fun sensory activity, such as a matching game with spinners. These play panels are affordable and easy to install at any playground!
Looking for another smart, economical way to make your playground more inclusive? Replace a traditional swing seat with an accessible swing seat!
PHOTO GALLERY: See how traditional playground equipment has evolved over time to become safer and more inclusive.
Inclusive Equipment and Playground Upgrades for a Moderate Budget
If your facility has a dedicated budget to make accessibility improvements, it may be helpful to consider all the different types of play which are important for a child’s growth, such as active motion, sensory play, imaginary play and social inclusion. Different equipment can target a specific type of play to help strengthen the mind and body.
To make a bigger upgrade, you could:
- Provide sensory play. Outdoor musical instruments are a fun, vibrant offering for playground guests to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of music. These products include:
- Xylophones . . . and more!
These instruments are professionally tuned and fully functioning to create harmonies that do not just sound like noise. And they can fit in virtually any space!
- Replace older equipment. A traditional merry go-round uses a spinning platform which is several inches off the ground and cannot always be used by children with mobility challenges or using assistive devices. Consider replacing this piece of equipment with an accessible surface spinner, with a platform flush to the ground so all kids can play together! These activities are a great way to combine active motion and social inclusion.
Another change we recommend is swapping out a traditional see-saw with a Team Totter, which offers additional seating and more room for kids to play.
- Encourage pretend play. Tall play structures with steps and ladders cannot always be used by all children. Consider adding ground-level structures where anyone can walk or wheel in and let their imagination run wild! Your playground could install a structure resembling a playhouse, fire truck, underground tunnel . . . the possibilities are endless!
SEE MORE: Check out our Project Inspiration gallery to view photos from some of our favorite inclusive playground projects.
Renovating or Building a New Inclusive Playground Destination
The decision to invest in a fully inclusive playground is an investment in the future of your community! At the top tier of accessible play projects, the goal is to include different levels of challenging equipment as well as peaceful, quiet spaces to rest and relax. This could include:
- Installing premium equipment. Take your playground to the next level with premium structures, such as the Rail Rider: an exciting zipline that everyone can use! Riders can zip from one end of the playground to the other in a comfortable safety harness that resembles an accessible swing seat. Ziplines can also be built side by side to allow more riders to play together. This is no ordinary swing set!
- Offering equipment for all activity levels. Appeal to older and more active children with more challenging equipment, such as:
- Climbers of various height and difficulty
- Balance beam
- Therapeutic rings
- Memory challenge activity panels
For an even more fun and exciting challenge, use outdoor fitness equipment to build an obstacle course!
- Creating a soothing sensory area. The sights and sounds of a busy playground can be overwhelming for anyone, and especially individuals with sensory processing disorders. Our partners at Little Tikes Commercial and Unlimited Play collaborated to design Quiet Grove: a calming sensory zone with noise buffering panels, where kids can rest and relax at the playground — encouraging them to stay instead of going home and feeling upset.
- Designing a custom playground. We offer solutions for everything from a themed play structure to a custom themed playground! Design themes foster imagination and creative play and could include a theme that pays tribute to your community, donors or nearby facilities. Take a look at this stunning farm-themed playground in our Project Inspiration gallery.
Bring Inclusive Play to Your Community
At All Inclusive Rec, we believe everyone should be included at the playground. We have experience working with facilities of all sizes and budgets throughout the Midwest to become more inclusive and offer accessible play equipment. To help bring your vision to life, we partner with industry leaders in inclusive design: Little Tikes Commercial, for playground equipment, and Unlimited Play, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to bringing inclusive play nationwide.
All Inclusive Rec can also offer basic consultation on grants and funding available for accessible equipment through our partnership with Unlimited Play. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s bring your inclusive playground project to life.
Contact All Inclusive Rec to discuss your goals and ideas with a local representative.