playground planning

How to Design Inclusive Playgrounds

Boy with a walker sitting on a slide on inclusive play system

What makes a playground inclusive?

Serving the needs and abilities of a variety of playground users is how an inclusive playground lives up to its name. Everyone can’t do everything, but making sure everyone can do something is how we create equity. Our universal playground design principles will lead you through planning and designing a genuine inclusive place for play.

Our teams of play experts are here to help guide you in the right direction!

Get your checklist for designing inclusive playgrounds

Universal playgrounds for all abilities & ages will be:

Inclusive Playgrounds Explained in Three Steps
boy with walker using a ramp to move onto a play tower

1. Accessible

A playground’s purpose is unfulfilled if users can’t get to it. Proximity to public transportation is ideal, and consider wide parking spaces and ramps that allow users to get to and move throughout your playground. If you’re designing a facility that’s enclosed, make sure the gates are wide enough for assistive devices. A too-narrow gate would be an obstacle for those who need help moving about, so be sure to consider other physical barriers, like curbs. Finally, accessible safety surfacing around outdoor play equipment lets children move through all parts of the park and socialize with their peers; a component of play value that shouldn't be overlooked!

Boy in wheelchair playing with a raised sand-table

2. Comfortable

Visitors with sensory or physical disabilities will want to stay and continue playing at a playground they feel comfortable at. Children have different limits on when they’ll need breaks, so consider facilities that encourage longer visits, like restrooms and water fountains. Even nearby businesses and cafes give a quiet space for children to recharge with a bite to eat and a break from the sun or cold. Speaking of the elements, ample shading is crucial for heat safety. Seating provides a much-needed break for playing kids, along with a comfortable lookout spot for caretakers, so consider placing tables and benches with an open sight line for safe and easy supervision.

A boy swinging on an inclusive swing set

3. Usable

Making sure everyone can get around your playground is crucial. Make extra space for users with assistive devices and create reachable play for children with mobility disabilities by installing ramps and easy-access surfacing material. Elevated surfaces can be within reach with the proper planning, but some parts of a playground, like the top of a MOMENTS™ play tower or a COROCORD™ rope playground, won’t be attainable. That doesn’t mean kids with mobility or sensory conditions can’t share in the joy! A clear line of sight lends to connection by creating an opportunity to watch other children. Better yet, a variation of ground-level play activities on the same structure can get everyone involved and supports inclusion.

How to make your playground more inclusive

Our playground experts have helped design inclusive playgrounds for schools, daycares, parks, and community centers. From their years of experience, they’ve gathered additional criteria on making a playground truly inclusive.
girl in wheelchair playing with sensory play plates

Sensory Play Activities

Provide equal play opportunities for children with sensory or cognitive disabilities with sensory play options. Touchable and visual textures, areas with equipment for soothing body pressure, and other sensory experiences, like outdoor musical instruments and scented plants, are great additions.

A girl climbing on a climbing net on playground

Challenging Play Opportunities

A variety of physically challenging, thrilling and sensory-stimulating activities, along with options for solo and group play, are critical when planning inclusive and universal playgrounds. Our spinning, rotating, swaying, swinging, and rocking equipment are sure to create many squeals and laughs! For sensory play, a choice of natural features and material, sound, and visual elements for use alone or with friends, will increase play retention.

A boy with walker playing on flexotop surfacing on playground

Guiding Design Language

The vibrant colors of your play surface aren’t just for looks, they can help users with vision impairments and sensory disabilities navigate the playground. Create signal transitions by strategically placing different textures and contrasting colors throughout your playground.

Our themed equipment will help many users connect with the playground - by letting their imagination transport them elsewhere!

A boy in wheelchair playing at raised sand table

Individual Play and Breaks

Taking a time out is essential to keep overstimulation or exhaustion at bay. Consider designing a seating area at some distance for children wanting some quiet time. Site amenities with accessible tables and seating, along with solitary play areas with play equipment designed for individual use, are also important for inclusive playground design.

An inclusive spinning playground equipment with smiling kids

Activities for Social Interaction

Social interaction is important for us all, so an inclusive playground must also have opportunities to connect! Placing side by side swings, springers or spinning devices is a great way to encourage fellow playground-goers to interact and share in their joy.

A boy in wheelchair with caretakers playing on sensory play equipment

Variety in Play Value

Wild and active play, then peace and quiet. An inclusive playground best serves its users by providing a variety of play opportunities. for physical, social-emotional, and cognitive-creative development. With all that growth, the children will need short breaks for some rest, so seating areas are equally important in your site design.

Why are inclusive playgrounds important?

Creating equitable outdoor play opportunities should be every community’s priority because everyone (all ages, genders, nationalities and abilities) benefits by playing together.

  1. Research shows when children with disabilities play with non-disabled children, they 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’s developed through play.

Why Choose KOMPAN? KOMPAN’s mission of creating truly inclusive, universal playgrounds has been part of our journey since the 1980s, before the ADA was established in 1990. We have more than 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

truly inclusive section

Truly inclusive - the reward of thrill in universal play designs



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