What Is an Inclusive Playground and Why Does it Matter?

Playgrounds have been around for years and years. While older playgrounds may have been makeshift events metal bars and old tires, playgrounds (in all shapes and sizes) have been bringing laughter for years and years. As playgrounds evolved and events got higher, softer surfacing was used, and borders outlining the playgrounds were added, and it excluded some children from being able to enjoy the fun.

An inclusive playground is a playground designed to include all children, parents, and caregivers. This means it contains specific components that allow all children to access and enjoy the play areas without physical limitations. Playing and having fun is an inclusive activity that all children and students should be able to enjoy, so providing an inclusive playground allows children to use the same space and play together.

While offering an ADA compliant playground is the right thing to do, it is also legally required. In fact, it is the only thing in playgrounds that is the law. While adding ADA accessible playground equipment, surfacing, or other components takes a little extra time and resources (as discussed below), it ensures you are following the law and providing accessible play areas to your students and community. It is also just a lot more fun for everyone!

Considerations of Offering an ADA Playground

Whether you are installing a new playground or upgrading your existing playground to be ADA compliant, there are a few things you should know.

1. The Cost Factor

While complying with ADA rules is the law and the right thing to do, it can increase the price of installs or repairs. Yet, there is not a one size fits all solution when it comes to providing an ADA accessible playground. You are still able to provide a compliant and inclusive playground while staying within budget.

Our team at SafetyFirst holds inclusive playgrounds to a high standard, and that’s why we know how to offer accessible play areas that don’t break the bank. We want to make sure all schools and parks provide accessible playgrounds so we’ve developed designs and strategies that make it affordable while elevating the level of accessibility.

2. Don’t Cluster Events

An inclusive playground is not considered inclusive if there is a designated accessible play area separate from the rest of the playground. Creating a cluster of ADA accessible events is the opposite of inclusiveness. It confines all ADA equipment and surfacing to a single area thus not allowing children to access the other parts of the playground. To truly offer an inclusive playground, the playground as a whole must include accessible play areas.

How to Make Your Playground an Inclusive Playground

As mentioned, there isn’t a single solution to making your playground ADA compliant. Different components go into providing an all-inclusive playground. Below we cover the main four parts of an ADA playground.

1. Accessible Pathways

Pathways are one of the most important ways you can provide accessible play areas. While some surfacing is wheelchair accessible, solid-surface pathways may offer a better solution. For example, concrete or poured in place rubber makes it easier for wheelchair users as compared to a type of mulch.

Installing pathways requires an understanding of:

  • The cost of the materials and how to design the pathways and surfacing to stay within budget. By strategically placing pathways and using a different material as the main surfacing, you can reduce the costs of the pathway’s material and installation.
  • How safety zones influence where pathways can be placed. For example, if you add concrete pathways, they must remain a certain distance from events to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Where to put loose-fill versus pathways. To go along with points 1 and 2, there are certain areas where it is better to place softer surfacing rather than firm pathways. For example, under high events, it is better to place surfacing with a lower HIC/Gmax to protect children in case of a fall.

2. ADA Compliant Surfacing

When it comes to accessible playground surfaces, there can be a limited number of options. It is important to check their certification to know if they are accessible. In addition to IPEMA certification, an ASTM 1951 certification indicates if it’s a wheelchair-accessible playground surface. Some examples of common surfacing options and their accessibility include:

  • Poured in place rubber – most likely ADA compliant
  • Engineered wood fiber (EWF) – sometimes ADA compliant
  • Rubber mulch – sometimes ADA compliant
  • Tiles – most likely ADA compliant when installed properly

It is important to note that accessible surfacing has different levels. For example, two types of surfacing may both be ASTM 1951 certified for ADA accessibility, but one may be easier for wheelchair users compared to the other. The certification doesn’t indicate these different levels of usability only that the surfacing meets the minimum requirements.

At SafetyFirst, we use our engineered wood fiber (EWF) surfacing, Nature’sPlus which is IPEMA certified and ASTM 1951 certified, as well as ASTM 1292 certified for Attenuation. In short, this means Nature’sPlus is firm and stable enough to offer wheelchair accessibility while soft enough to reduce fall injuries. Nature’sPlus is a uniquely designed EWF that exceeds other EWF surfacing options in safety and durability. We recommend using Nature’sPlus along with pathways to deliver enhanced, all-inclusive playgrounds.

3. Inclusive Playground Borders

To offer an inclusive playground, children, parents, and caregivers must be able to enter the playground without assistance. This means the borders that surround the playground must allow wheelchairs to easily enter the playground. A few ways you can provide accessible playground borders include:

  • Ground-level borders
  • Ramps
  • Sidewalks

4. Wheelchair Accessible Ramps

In addition to ramps being used for border access, ramps must be available for elevated events. Accessible play areas are not confined to ground events but include the overheads events as well. It is important to look into the requirements for ramping before installing your playground because, for a certain number of elevated events, you need a certain number of ramps. If you are working with SafetyFirst, we can advise you on these requirements.

Is Your Playground ADA Accessible?

There are a lot of options available when it comes to making your playground ADA accessible! From the type of pathways available, where to place pathways vs surfacing, or what border to select, you have a variety of inclusive playground equipment and designs available to keep your playground compliant, safe, and in budget.

Our team at SafetyFirst can lead you through the process of making your playground inclusive, whether you are installing a new playground or want to upgrade your existing playground. Get in touch! We look forward to working with you and your playground.