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How to make an inclusive playground accessible
Inclusive playgrounds must provide children, parents, carers and people of all abilities inclusive access and the opportunity to move throughout the play space easily, safely and independently.
To make your inclusive playground accessible, there are various elements to consider:
- Selecting the most appropriate surfacing
- Placing equipment and features at varying heights
- Allowing users to easily transfer to and from the play equipment
- Creating wide enough routes throughout the play space
- Providing flush transitions to allow people using mobility aids to move freely
Selecting the surfacing
Surfacing plays a major part in making your playground accessible, therefore, it’s important that the most appropriate and accessible surfacing is chosen for the design, location, play equipment and features of your playground.
If you are involved or want to be involved in selecting the surfacing yourself it’s a good idea to visit various play spaces with different surfacing and test out the surfaces, if possible, with children and adults with visual impairment and wheelchairs or mobility aids. This will help establish which surfacing works well where and why.
Surfaces must meet the EN 1176 and EN 1177 standards; they should also be suitable for the intended use, for example, access routes and paths need to be constructed from materials that remain useable throughout the year, falling spaces must have surfacing materials appropriate for the equipment, etc.
Do keep in mind that the choice of surfacing in the overall design scheme is not only about access and safety but also about play values.
Loose-fill, bumpy and textured surfaces are not always considered good for access but, because of their high play value to children of all abilities and preferences, their use should not be ruled out completely in the play area.
Our play space designers are very knowledgeable and will make sure to choose the appropriate surfacing based on your requirements, the play equipment specified, location, safety standards, etc.
Placing equipment and features at varying heights
Research has demonstrated that it is not enough for a child to see, they must also be able to touch to be engaged. They should be able to interact with the play features, wayfinding and surrounding environment with their hands for a tactile experience.
It is important to enable children to reach and touch play equipment, features and landscaping as this is critical to a child’s engagement.
Consider placing play panels, landscaping, telescopes, water and sand tables, etc. at varying heights to accommodate children who have different reach ranges.
Look at including more than one piece of the same equipment at different heights, for example, installing two telescopes where one is higher than the other.
Ensure that a child who is using a wheelchair can access the play equipment and features by sitting at or under them.
Allowing users to easily transfer to and from the play equipment
Transfer platforms allows a child or adult who is using a mobility aid to transfer to and from that aid independently and use the play space more easily.
Consider all the surfaces adjacent to the accessible route and estimate the possibility of a user transferring to them from a chair. Examine how a child who is using a chair might transfer to the play equipment or feature that doesn’t have a platform, perhaps there is a surface or grip point that can help the child be included.
Depending on the requirements of your community/ users, consider providing on-deck transfers that facilitate movement from a mobility aid onto the play activity. This is especially important at slides.
Also, think about having a deck with a transfer platform on one side and a set of steps on the other side to facilitate children of different abilities playing together.
Transfer steps allows someone who does not have use of their legs to be able to move their body between elevation changes on the play equipment and back to a mobility aid.
If someone is moving themselves on their behind, the smaller the change in height between elevations, decks or play surfaces, the better.
Create wide enough routes throughout the play space
Build accessible routes throughout the play space which provides wheelchair users, parents with prams and buggies, and/or children who do not like to be touched, enough room to pass each other while using the play space.
The play area can help children develop their abilities and widen their enjoyment, so a mixture of passage widths within the play space will provide choice and play value.
The most important areas that should be wide enough for those using mobility aids are entrances, gates, exits and busy routes.
The available room in front of play components should allow a child using a wheelchair and their companion to play next to one another.
Provide flush transitions
Provide flush transitions to all areas of the play space and surrounding area to allow people using mobility aids to move freely.
Ensure, as much as possible, transitions between all route surfaces and play surface access points are flushed with each other.
Make sure that surface connections have tight enough seams through the play space, without any barriers or trip hazards between sections of the play area that would impede someone using a mobility aid.
Keep in mind that transitions between surfaces often indicate the end of one contractor’s work and the beginning of the work of another. The quality of the communication between contractors will be a determinant in the quality of the transition.