KOMPAN Play Institute | Research Article

A Design Checklist for Success with Inclusive Playgrounds

a group of children playing on a playground.

The Inclusive Playground Checklist

The inclusive playground checklist draws on the above evidence-based findings, the KOMPAN Play Institute's many years of research, and their article, Play for All (2020). All elements of the checklist are scientific, observational, experience-based, and intermesh with universal playground design principles, centralizing around three key questions:

  1. Can users get around the playground?

  2. Can users stay in the playground?

  3. Can users play in the playground?

Download the research-based checklist

A research-based approach to inclusive playground design

Playgrounds allow children to explore, have fun, and develop essential physical, cognitive, and social skills. However, for children with disabilities or special needs, traditional playgrounds can present significant barriers to participation and enjoyment. This is where inclusive playgrounds come in.

When designing an inclusive playground, you need knowledge based on thorough research, including user participation, as well as insights from universal playground design principles. Key data and insights we've gathered from years of independent research is now compiled into an easy-to-use checklist. We hope this checklist serves as a guide in designing your own playground – one that puts accessibility, inclusivity, and usability at the forefront, so children of all abilities have the opportunity to learn and grow through play.

One piece of research that informed this checklist was a survey carried out in 2018 by the KOMPAN Play Institute. In this survey, 54 families with children with disabilities in Denmark were asked a series of questions to help us understand how they used local playgrounds. Here are their main takeaways:

  • Regarding accessibility and usability, 57% of children in the survey who use wheelchairs stated that they rarely or never visit their nearest playground, and 47% said they would visit less than once a month, which is quite limited. Furthermore, 71% of wheelchair users found their nearest playground inaccessible, and a staggering 93% found the usability of their nearest playground to be below average.

  • Regarding equipment and activities, families responded that their favourite activities were playground classics such as slides, swings, climbers, and basic playground equipment. Specifically, a total of 67% of the families rated slides and swings are their favourite activities. When asked, the families also stated that variation of play equipment is essential although they did not express a preference to unique solutions or custom designs, making it evident that they just want access to play, just like any other kid.

From this survey, it’s evident that accessibility to playgrounds and the playground equipment itself is imperative. As such, inclusive playgrounds where everyone in the family can play need to increase in frequency. (Jespersen, 2018)*1

Why make playgrounds inclusive?

All children should have access to play. Therefore, inclusive playgrounds are designed to accommodate children of all abilities, including those with physical, sensory, or cognitive impairments. These playgrounds feature equipment and activities that are accessible, inclusive, and usable for all children, regardless of their abilities.

The importance of inclusive playgrounds is also seen in:

1. Play solutions for all make it possible for children of all abilities to interact, decreasing feelings of loneliness and isolation for those children who may sometimes be left out.

2. When children of differing abilities play together, they get to know and care for people who are different than them, promoting empathy, understanding, acceptance, and diversity.

3. Inclusive playgrounds allow children to interact with and learn from others who have different abilities and play behaviours than their own, improving social-emotional skills among all.

What do we mean by inclusive playgrounds?

Inclusiveness is about acknowledging that we are all different; it’s the idea that everyone cannot do everything, but everyone can do something. However, regardless of one’s limitations, all of us should be able to participate at some level in the public realm, together with others. Inclusion and universal design acknowledge this truth, and as a result, incorporate playground equipment, solutions, and designs that allow everyone access and use of the space.

Since the UNESCO Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (1996)*2, the word inclusive has replaced the word “integrative” in how societies plan for people with and without disabilities. In explaining the definition of inclusive, each of the following concepts, also depicted in Figure 1, help bring further insight to the term.

Exclusion draws a distinction between what is accessible to everyone considered within the norm (people in the circle) and what is accessible to everyone perceived not within the norm (people outside the circle.)

Segregation creates a barrier when people perceived within the norm have access to amenities, and those perceived not within the norm have access to different amenities.

Integration includes everyone in one space but limits interaction by giving people within the norm access to one set of amenities, and those perceived not within the norm amenities in a fenced-off area.

Inclusion acknowledges that we are all different, but we are all in it together - within the same circle where the same amenities can be used by all people in different ways.

Inclusive playgrounds are essential for creating a more inclusive and accepting society. Playground equipment that everyone can use promotes social inclusion, empathy, and accessibility. Children can take this idea off the playground and into their homes, schools, and communities, to create a better future for all.
Can I get there?
Can I Stay?
Can I play?

Specific, evidence-based equipment for inclusive design

In recent years, more scientific, evidence-based research has surfaced with recommendations for designing inclusive playgrounds. Looking closely at these surveys, scoping reviews (Brown et al., 2021)*3, and taking into account KOMPAN's own research, at least seven initiatives have been identified as helpful when planning playground design and choosing equipment for inclusive playgrounds:

1. Playground equipment that can be accessed independently and with minimal transfer work

First, ensuring playground equipment can be accessed independently and with minimal transfer work tends to be favoured by those who have accessibility problems, such as physical restrictions or other movement limitations. A good example of this would be playground equipment that is wheelchair accessible.

2. Adapted play equipment

Adapted equipment, such as ramps, universal carousels, and raised sandboxes, is also helpful for people with physical restrictions. For example, a raised sandbox enables wheelchair users to play without leaving the wheelchair as the device fits under the raised sandbox.

3. Intuitive, easy-to-use playground equipment

Integrate easy-to-decode playground equipment within your inclusive playground for those with cognitive disabilities. Big seesaws on springs, ground-level spinning equipment, and playhouses are examples of intuitive playground equipment.

4. Play equipment that accommodates helpers

Spacious equipment that can accommodate helpers and caregivers, e.g., double slides and pathways that allow for turning, passing, and co-playing, can be extremely helpful in promoting inclusion. High-capacity play equipment, such as large platform seesaws, large spinning equipment, and large basket swings, also supports inclusion by allowing caregivers, and thus the child with disabilities, to be included in play. Additionally, it is crucial that climbing areas have generous overhead and side spaces for maximum access and usability.

5. Solitary play components for escaping overstimulation

Physical activity tends to be the main focus when planning for inclusive playgrounds. However, incorporating solitary play components is also important for providing children a necessary retreat from overstimulation. Individual play panels and dens are perfect for taking a break from more physical and social activities.

6. Different types of sensory-based play components

Different sensory-based play components like music panels, textures and functionalities, sound panels, and equipment with visual impact are also recommended for inclusive playgrounds.

7. Signage and other elements for spatial orientation, communication, and guidance on equipment use

Finally, integrating signage and other visual elements for spatial orientation and communication on the overall playground is helpful. Guidance for equipment use is not only helpful for children with various cognitive, social, emotional, sensory, or physical disabilities but also for their families.

To summarise, accessibility, inclusion, and usability are the answers to designing an inclusive playground, with the following questions leading you there:

  1. Can I get there?

  2. Can I stay?

  3. Can I play? (2019) *4

How to ensure that a playground is truly inclusive

As the research above suggests, accessibility has been common knowledge for some time now thanks in part to the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA (2001)*5. With recent research fromEveryone Can Play, the New South Wales Guideline (2019)*4, and Canadian publication Creating Inclusive Playgrounds (2022)*6, inclusion is also well underway. However, guidance is still hard to come by when it comes to usability and achieving the thrill of the actual play experience. This gap is exactly what the Inclusive Playground Checklist aims to solve.

This article summarises the webinar "A Design Checklist for Success with Inclusive Playgrounds”. To learn more about the subject, you can request a webinar recording.



  1. Jespersen, J. F. (2018), Equity in Play: Survey on playground use in children with disabilities [White Paper] Available at https://www.kompan.com/en/int/research/kompan-play-institute/play-resources/equality-in-play-survey-on-playground-use-in-children-with-disabilities

  2. UNESCO, The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, (1994) Paris: UNESCO. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000098427

  3. Brown, D. M. Y., Ross, T. J., Leo, J., Buliung, R., Shirazipour, C. H., Latimer-Cheung, A. E., & Arbour-Nicitopoulos, K. P. (2021). A Scoping Review of Evidence-Informed Recommendations for Designing Inclusive Playgrounds. Frontiers in Rehabilitation Sciences2. https://doi.org/10.3389/fresc.2021.664595

  4. Everyone Can Play: The New South Wales Guideline to Create Inclusive Playgrounds. (2019) Available at planning.nsw.gov.au/policy-and-legislation/open-space-and-parklands/everyone-can-play-in-nsw

  5. Americans with Disabilities Act ADA (2001).

  6. Ross, T., Abour-Nicitopoulos, K., Kanics, I.M, and Leo, J. (2022). "Creating Inclusive Playgrounds: A Playbook of Considerations and Strategies." Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Available at www.hollandbloorview.ca/playgroundsplaybook

  7. Jespersen, J. F. (2020), Play for All: Universal Design for Inclusive Playgrounds [White Paper] Available at

Article by

Jeanette Fich Jespersen

Head of Kompan Play Institute

As head of the KOMPAN Play Institute, Jeanette has over 20 years of experience in researching, developing, and advocating playground play. Jeanette has served on the scientific and organizing boards of several international conferences on child-friendly city planning. Jeanette has authored and co-authored numerous white papers and articles on the topics of inclusive and universal play design and child development.

jeanette fich jespersen from kompan play institute

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