playground planning

How to design inclusive playgrounds

What makes a playground inclusive?

The secret behind the attraction of an inclusive public playground lies in being mindful of the different needs and behaviours of playground users. It’s all about creating equity in access and use. Everyone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. Following our universal playground design principles, you are well-equipped when planning and designing your inclusive playground project.

Reach out to our team of play experts to guide you in the right direction.

Everyone can play

The main design features of an amazing playground for all abilities and all ages are:

1. Accessibility

Start by ensuring accessibility to the playground and the surrounding area. Plan for easy access to transportation, parking, and toilets with ramps and wide pathways to and from the playground. If you are planning a gated playground ensure that gates are wide enough to facilitate assisted access and assistive devices. Avoid physical obstacles such as curbs and gates placed out of reach. Accessible safety surfacing around play equipment is necessary for social play value and peer communication.

2. Stay value

Next, ensure everyone feels comfortable in the playground, especially children with sensory or physical challenges. Children have differing needs for socialising and retracting, and so do their caregivers. Additional facilities nearby will encourage longer visits, i.e. toilets, water fountains, café, electricity etc. Make sure that the playground caters for young, old and all abilities by providing shade to avoid overheating, seating and tables for a break, also for caregivers and create a layout with transparent sight lines for easy supervision and contact across the play area.

3. Usability

Lastly, getting around the play area is hugely important. So, ensure users with mobility difficulties can get around the playground and easily reach the play equipment. Implement play equipment that provide play from all sides and spaciousness to support diverse body, sizes, abilities and positions.

Also make sure that elevated-level and ground-level play activities are accessible and usable for users with mobility difficulties, either by a ramp structure or easy access surfacing materials. Ramp structures provide access to levels of play otherwise not reachable by, e.g. wheelchair users.

How to make my playground more inclusive

Our playground experts have helped many communities design inclusive playgrounds. From years of experience, they have determined some additional focus areas that add value and make for a truly inclusive playground.

Sensory play activities

Accessibility also means considering users with sensory or cognitive disabilities. Considering sensory play events in your inclusive playground design is a beautiful way of activating equal play opportunities. Factors to consider are tangible and visual textures, areas with equipment for soothing body pressure, auditive movement motivators, and sensory experiences, e.g. scented plants.

Challenging play opportunities

Varied play equipment is the main success criterium when planning inclusive and universal playgrounds—having a choice of physically challenging, thrilling and sensory stimulating activities that can be played in groups or individually will ensure playability. Choosing spinning, rotating, swaying, swinging, and rocking equipment for the physical thrill will ensure success. For sensory stimulation, a choice of natural features and tactile, sound, and visual elements to play with, alone or together, will increase play retention.

Guiding design language

Create signal transitions in the playground and play area by using different textures and contrasting colours placed strategically in the surfacing. This will help users with vision impairments and a range of users with sensory disabilities navigate the playground.

Dramatic play elements such as themed equipment will help many users connect and relate to the playground.

Individual play and breaks

Respites are essential to avoid overstimulation. A quiet area to retract to is a need for many users. Consider site amenities with accessible seating and table options and solitary play areas with play equipment which can be used individually, as this is also crucial for inclusive playground design.

Social interaction

Social interaction is important for all of us. Therefore, an inclusive playground must also include play equipment and activities that stimulates social interactions; such as “two-of-each” parallel play options for training social skills. Placing side-by-side swings, springers or spinning devices is an amazing way to create parallel play options.

Variety in play value

Variety in play opportunities is about creating a play space with busy and quiet activities. An inclusive playground should provide physical, social-emotional, cognitive-creative activities but also allow for breaks with seating and areas for retraction from play.

Why are inclusive playgrounds important?

Creating equity in outdoor play opportunities is the primary obligation of communities because everyone benefits from playing together: across ages, genders, nationalities, and abilities.

  1. Research shows that children with disabilities who play with typically developing children grow and develop their abilities and strengths, thus gaining a positive self-image.

  2. Children with disabilities, just like all other kids, love the thrill and joy of playing with others.

  3. Children’s physical, social-emotional, cognitive and creative development is not only supported by play, it is developed through play.

Why Choose KOMPAN?KOMPAN’s mission of creating truly inclusive, universal playgrounds has been part of our journey since the 1980s, and ADA playgrounds since the 1990s. We have over 50 years of experience designing play solutions for all, including children with disabilities. Over the past years, the KOMPAN Play Institute has intensified its observation studies and revisited the core insights of universal play.

Research on inclusive playgrounds

Download your free inclusive planning checklist

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