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Accessible playgrounds

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Contents

Introduction

Every child and those still young at heart should have the opportunity to enjoy a playground, be able to play with your friends and enjoy the outdoors. This can be a challenge to someone that uses a wheelchair or that has other disabilities. The wood bark, sand, or grass found in many playgrounds makes it very difficult and nearly impossible to maneuver a wheelchair around. And what about the slides, swings, benches, and even water fountains. All those features on a typical neighborhood playground make it very hard for someone in a wheelchair to enjoy. Included in this article are the ADA regulations for making accessible playgrounds and some equipment that has been manufactured for accessibility. There is a large amount of equipment used and sold for accessible playgrounds that are not included in the article but are very helpful for special needs including ramps, picnic tables, benches, and other play gear.

ADA codes for Accessible Playgrounds

A branch of the Americans with Disabilities act, the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access board) has a job of advocating for those with disabilities and promoting accessibility. (1)

All new and reconstructed playgrounds must now be constructed under the guidelines set forth by the Access board. (1)

A complete summary of all the play area guidelines can be found in Chapter 10 of the ADA - ABA Accessibility Guideline Requirements Some of the guidelines include:

  • 1008.2.1 Ground Level and Elevated Play Components. Accessible routes serving ground level play components and elevated play components shall be permitted to use the exceptions in 1008.2.1.
    • EXCEPTIONS: 1. Transfer systems complying with 1008.3 shall be permitted to connect elevated play components except where 20 or more elevated play components are provided no more than 25 percent of the elevated play components shall be permitted to be connected by transfer systems.
  • 1008.2.5.1 Ground Level. Ramp runs connecting ground level play components shall have a running slope not steeper than 1:16.
  • 1008.3.1 Transfer Platforms. Transfer platforms shall be provided where transfer is intended from wheelchairs or other mobility aids. Transfer platforms shall comply with 1008.3.1.
    • 1008.3.1.1 Size. Transfer platforms shall have level surfaces 14 inches (355 mm) deep minimum and 24 inches (610 mm) wide minimum.
  • 1008.4.4 Entry Points and Seats. Where play components require transfer to entry points or seats, the entry points or seats shall be 11 inches (280 mm) minimum and 24 inches (610 mm) maximum from the clear floor or ground space.
    • EXCEPTION: Entry points of slides shall not be required to comply with 1008.4.4.

This is only a small list of the standards for accessible playground which will allow for wheelchair access.

Equipment used in Playground

Swings

For swings to be appropriate for people with disabilities, they should have a high back in order to provide head and back support for the person that is swinging. (2). Multiple swing designs are available and can include molded chairs made to fit people with a smaller stature. These have the high backs and a lap and/or shoulder belt. An example of this type of swing is shown in the following Figure. (3)

High Back Child’s Swing
High Back Child’s Swing

Other swing designs are made for a larger person. These are not molded but can provide foot rests as well as trunk support. An example of this can be shown in the figure. (3)

High Back Adult Swing
High Back Adult Swing

A third type of swing allows a person to stay in their wheelchair. They are able to wheel the chair directly into the swing and can then be swung from that position. (3)

Swing Made for a Wheelchair
Swing Made for a Wheelchair

Turf

Grass, sand, and dirt, which are found at many playgrounds, are not very easy to ride around a wheelchair in. Several companies have been producing synthetic turfs to make playgrounds more accessible as well as make them a lot softer to land on after a fall. Types of surfaces can include wood fibers, shredded rubber, and bonded rubber.

Wood Fibers

According to the manufacturer, wood fibers are ideal for wheelchair users as they are in a very compact layer. This surface is made from crushed wood fibers containing no paint or additives. This surface does have water problems and if gets wet it will freeze in the winter. This requires more maintenance then other types of surfacing. (6)

Wood Fibers
Wood Fibers

Shredded Rubber

This material is made from recycled rubber products. It is very durable, nearly maintenance free, and easy to install. (5) This is a loose material and does not absord or maintain water so will not freeze in the winter. (6)


Shredded Rubber type of Surfacing
Shredded Rubber type of Surfacing

Bonded Rubber

Bonded rubber comes from shredded recycled tires and is mixed with a polyurethane material to make it bond together, making a smoother surface. Colors can be added to the material and it is then coated with a sealant. This type of material is good for year round weather because it will not absorb water or freeze (5).

Bonded Rubber type of Surfacing
Bonded Rubber type of Surfacing


Transfer Platforms

Transfer platforms are available to assist a child in transferring from their wheelchair onto the playground, such as to go down a slide. Once on the playground, if the child has the ability, they can maneuver around the various activities, or they can get to the lower accessible play components (2)

Playground Transfer Platform
Playground Transfer Platform
Playground with Transfer Platform
Playground with Transfer Platform
Low Level Play Component
Low Level Play Component


Water Fountains

Water fountains are a necessity at all playgrounds. If someone is in a wheelchair or shorter than the average child, they will have a lot of difficulty in reaching the water fountains. The water fountain pictured below has three levels on it. The lowest is the height for a 22” wheelchair, the middle for a wheelchair height at 27” and the tallest one is a standard height. Easily accessible buttons are on the sides of each fountain and the fountains are normally installed in paved areas allowing the best access. (2)

Accessible Water Fountain
Accessible Water Fountain

Unique Accessible Equipment

Sway fun is an exciting piece of equipment for wheelchair and non wheelchair users alike. Two wheelchairs can fit in this glider along with other passengers on the benches. It also contains a table and cupholders for extra fun. According to the manufacturer, Landscape Structures, Sway fun is appropriate for ages 5-12 (4).

Sway Fun
Sway Fun

Another piece of equipment made by the same company as Sway fun is an Accessible Stationary Cycler. This is good for kids age 5-12 and is specifically made for wheelchair users. The user can roll up to the cycler and they are able to cycle their arms and help build their upper body strength. (4)

Accessible Stationary Cycle
Accessible Stationary Cycle

A third product by the company is called the SuperScoop. This product is good for children up to 12 years in age and can be used by both wheelchair and non wheelchair children. The user is able to use their upper body to scoop and dig into the sand. In the meantime, while they are having fun, they will be building their coordination and strength in their upper body. (4)

SuperScoop
SuperScoop

More products can be found from the same manufacture at their website, Landscape Structures Accessible Products


Example Playgrounds

Some examples of accessible playgrounds and where they are located can be found at Boundless Playgrounds


Sources

All information in this article came from the following sources

  1. . ADA Playground Guidelines
  1. . Accessible Playground Information Guide
  2. . Outdoor Fun Store
  3. . Landscape Structures
  4. . Playtime Playgrounds
  5. . Gametime