The social connectedness of playing together in public playgrounds is an asset in equity and inclusion agendas. Since public playgrounds are for all citizens, planners should consider whether all can use them.

What is an inclusive playground?

Inclusion focuses on what people of all abilities can contribute instead of what they cannot do: the environment is disabling, not the people, if access is not possible. People of all abilities should be able to access, be included and be invited to play in public playgrounds.

A truly inclusive playground caters to both invisible and visible disabilities, and follows the universal design principles:

  1. Equitable use

  2. Flexibility in use

  3. Simple and intuitive to use

  4. Perceptible information

  5. Tolerance for error

  6. Low physical effort

  7. Size and space for approach and use

In a playground context, principle 6, low physical effort, is less relevant. A high physical thrill level often involves physical effort and is one of the very motivations of great playgrounds. The universal design principles were developed in the 1990s by design practitioners*. The principles have become widely acknowledged as a way of working with facilities that everybody can use to the widest possible extent.

* Seven Principles of Universal Design (Ron Mace et al, 1997)

Benefits of inclusive playgrounds

hero case film inclusive thumbnail
The rise in neurodiversity diagnoses, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), calls for additional measures to be considered.

What makes a playground inclusive

The layers of truly inclusive playground design centre around three questions: Can users get around? Can they stay? and, Can they play?
Download Inclusive Playground Checklist
boy with walker using a ramp to get on a play tower

1. Get Around

Accessible paths and safety surfacing are mandatory for access. Playgrounds needs paths wide enough to make space for assistants and have safety surfacing that is accessible for all, including wheelchair users. A good, inclusive playground design applies the realistic rule of thumb that all users cannot do everything, but all users should be offered something, preferably as much as possible, that they can play on or with.

2. Stay

The inclusive design focuses on retention and extended stays, which means consideration of users’ need for variation, zones of diverse play, and points for breaks. If these points are relatively close to the playground, children needn’t fear that the break is the end of play. Benches generously spread for breaks at the play zones make it possible for users with walking problems to stay longer in the playground, whether young or old.

3. Play

Variation in play activities is mandatory for inclusive playground success. Thrill activities should never be underwhelming in the thrill or activity level since thrill is a success factor for all children across abilities. But inclusive play equipment should appeal to more than the daredevils only. Respect the desire for social play for smaller and bigger groups of children and the need for individual play, for instance, at play panels or on single-use active play equipment, is essential.

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Universal Inclusion in Playgrounds

A peek of what you get

  • A walkthrough of the best-in-class design principles behind an inclusive playground

  • A thorough checklist to get your inclusive design right

  • Inspirational inclusive cases from around the world

  • Our recommendation for the best inclusive playground products

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How to ensure invisible inclusion for all

The three design principles should not only consider visible disabilities, but also neuro-diversity disabilities.

Accessibility as a neurodiversity-friendly asset means help with wayfinding in the playground. Maps, signs and play zone guidance will help many users, especially those with difficulties navigating many sensory impressions at a time, including many users with AD(H)D or ASD. Good maps for wayfinding at the entrance and an entrance that offers seating will help. Recognisable markers of routes to wilder and quieter play areas and respite areas are helpful.

When designing neurodiversity-friendly playgrounds, edges of functionality should be signalled. Using colour and texture contrasts around play zones and signalling changes in types of play activities will help guide users in seeking out or avoiding certain activities. Responsive play activities, such as swings, rotating equipment or slides, can be marked out with contrasting colour dots in the surfacing under them to assist users. For users with vision impairments, the textures in the ground and contrasting colours around play zones can help with wayfinding and functionality indications; for example, explanatory signs that aid communication will help many.

a group of people standing around a children laying on top of a inclusive play equipment

KOMPAN Play Institute research

Ever since the 1990s, children of all ages and abilities have been included and heard in the research and development process with the KOMPAN Play Institute.

The KOMPAN Play Institute is KOMPAN’s unit of play specialists, dedicated to researching, developing and documenting trends in children’s and families’ play in playgrounds. The institute is essential to KOMPAN’s child-centred play agenda and comprises trained scholars and researchers with certified course materials.

Equity in playground access

Equity is a United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal. It is a fundamental part of happier, healthier, and more sustainable communities. However, not everyone is equal regarding access to leisure offerings and playgrounds. Children with disabilities participate far less in active play and physical activity than their peers. Since active play is one of the main contributors to child health, the accessibility to and usability of public playgrounds for children of all abilities is fundamental for their physical and social-emotional well-being and health.

Research on inclusive playgrounds

a children's play area with children playing on the playground.

A Design Checklist for Success with Inclusive Playgrounds

Play

Inclusive

Corporate Content

White Paper

truly inclusive section

Truly inclusive – the reward of thrill in universal play designs

Equality in play – Survey on playground use in children with disabilities

Play for all - Universal designs for inclusive playgrounds

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Playground planning

How to design inclusive playgrounds?

Inclusive play equipment
A boy using a walking frame is playing at a colourful, accessible playground with another boy. They are looking at each other happily. It's important to plan playgrounds that are inclusive. Browse KOMPAN's playground planning tools for more information.