How to design inclusive playgrounds?
What makes a playground inclusive
The main design features of an amazing playground for all abilities and all ages are: Accessibility, Stay ability and Usability. The secret behind the attraction of the inclusive playground lies in being mindful of the different needs and behaviors of playground users. It’s all about creating equity in access and use.
KOMPAN’s mission of creating truly inclusive, universal playgrounds has been part of our journey since the 1980ies. We can help you succeed in creating great playgrounds for all. We know that all children and communities are different, and that parents and care givers need to be considered to make the playground work for all, regardless of their abilities. Our playground consultants will be happy to help you design the exact inclusive playground that your community, your citizens and your children want. The main attractions of inclusive playgrounds are universal: all children share play wishes for physical trill, sensory experiences and fun. But their wishes for the quantity of it, and for the social interaction, differ.
1. What is the best location for an inclusive playground?
The best location can be reached by varied means of transportation. Planning the inclusive playground close to public transport, ample parking and public restrooms is a good idea. For users with mobility challenges, accessible means avoiding physical obstacles such as curbs and narrow gates with opening handles that are placed out of reach. Working with spaciousness in the parking area makes it possible for parents of children with mobility disabilities to transfer their child safely from the car into the assistive device. Spaciousness is also relevant in the pathways that lead to the playground and in the entry area of the playground. Spaciousness allows care givers and children with assistive devices to pass and enter with no obstacles. Signage and overview maps that illustrate the layout of the playground and possibly a map of your community’s inclusive playgrounds is a good idea.
2.1. Is the playground accessible for users of all abilities?
Accessibility to the various play activity zones and play equipment is a main concern when planning an inclusive playground. So, make sure users with mobility difficulties can get around the playground and reach the play equipment. There should be accessible routes to all equipment, and around it. This allows caregivers with assistive devices to supervise their children, and it allows children with assistive devices to be part of their friends’ play. Accessible safety surfacing around play equipment is a must for the social play value and communication with peers.
Accessibility also means considering users with sensory or cognitive disabilities. Provide a design language that explains functionalities around the playground.
2.2. Use design language to guide the users
Contrast colors in the surfacing under wilder play equipment, such as spinning or swinging activities.
Signal transitions in the playground and play area by using different textures and contrasting colors in the surfacing, or scented plants placed strategically. This will help both users with vision limitations as well as a range of users with sensory disabilities navigate the playground.
Respites are important to avoid over-stimulation. A quiet area to retract to is a need for many users. Play items placed on their own, which can be used individually are important for inclusive design, too.
3. Is the playground fun for all?
Varied play equipment is a main success criterium when planning inclusive and universal playgrounds. All cannot necessarily play all, but all can play on or with a variety of items. Having a choice of physically thrilling and sensory stimulating activities that can be played in groups or individually will ensure playability. For the physical thrill, a choice of spinning, rotating, swaying, swinging and rocking equipment will ensure success. For the sensory stimulation, a choice of natural features as well as tactile, sound and visual elements to play with, alone or together, will increase play retention for all. Dramatic play elements such as themed equipment will help many users connect and relate to the playground.
When you are designing an inclusive playground, you should ask yourself whether:
There is a choice of accessible equipment for varied age groups?
There is a choice of accessible movements represented: spinning, swaying, crawling etc.?
There is a choice of accessible sensory or cognitively stimulating play equipment?
4. Is the playground and its main equipment usable for all abilities?
Many playgrounds have center piece play equipment, such as giant tower-structures or tall climbing nets. These are play magnets for children, also for those who cannot use or climb them due to mobility or sensory conditions. Children take joy in watching other children have fun if they can somehow participate in play and be involved. Transparent designs, with good vision lines throughout, support verbal interaction. A variation of physical and sensory activities at ground level support inclusion, especially if they are part of the same structure. Main solitary play attractions should be accessible and usable for all, too. Dynamic play equipment, spinning equipment in particular, is known to attract hugely.
Designs are transparent and allows for social interaction and conversations between inside and outside of play structures
Signature equipment has ground level play that is usable for all
Make sure that dynamic equipment caters for a range of users, from wheelchair users who cannot get out of the chair to children with sensory challenges, by offering both wheel-onto as well as varied use pieces, individual as well as group use equipment, such as TIPI Carousels or Spicas.
5. Is the playground stay-able for users of all abilities?
Make sure that everyone feels comfortable to stay in the playground, especially children with sensory or physical challenges. Children have differing needs for socializing and retracting, and so do caregivers. Apart from additional facilities nearby that will invite 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 over-heating
Seating and tables for a break, also for care givers
Transparent sight-lines for easy supervision and contact across the area
A natural setting with trees and plants
Research on inclusive playgrounds
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