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 research and many years of research from the KOMPAN Play Institute, testing and developing playground equipment in collaboration with children. The checklist also ties in with our research article, Play for All (2020), and presents three central notions as points of departure when designing truly inclusive playgrounds.

All elements of the checklist are scientific, observational, experience-based, and intermesh with universal playground design principles:

  • Can users get around in the playground?

  • Can users stay in the playground?

  • Can users play in the playground?

Download checklist

How to design Inclusive playgrounds through a research-based checklist

Playgrounds allow children to explore, have fun, and develop essential physical and social skills. For children with disabilities or special needs, traditional playgrounds can present significant barriers to participation and enjoyment. That is where inclusive playgrounds based on universal design principles come in. From years of research, we have gathered findings in a tool with a checklist format to guide you when designing inclusive playgrounds and choosing playground equipment to create spaces where everyone will want to play together.

Designing a successful inclusive playground requires knowledge based on users, research, and insights from universal playground design principles. An inclusive playground checklist is purposeful for designing playgrounds for children with all abilities and includes considerations such as accessibility, inclusion, and usability.

In 2018, the KOMPAN Play Institute surveyed 54 families with disabilities in Denmark. This survey shows that many families with disabilities rarely use the playground nearest to their homes. Answers from 57% of children who use wheelchairs in the survey showed that they rarely or never visit their nearest playground, and 47% said they would visit less than once a month. That is quite a limited number of users for accessibility and usability of the nearest playground. While 71% of wheelchair users found their nearest playground inaccessible, 93% of the wheelchair users found the usability of their nearest playground to be below average.

Families responded that their favourite activities were playground classics such as slides, swings, climbers, and basic playground equipment. A total of 67% of the families with children with disabilities rated slides and swings are their favourite activity and did not indicate that unique solutions or custom designs were their preference. The best part of the playground, when looking beyond equipment, is that the playground has accessible surfacing. Accessibility to the actual playground and the playground equipment itself is imperative. When asked, the families also stated that variation of play equipment is essential, enabling everyone in the family to play. Inclusive playgrounds for the whole family are in demand, and the need to increase the frequency of use of local playgrounds is evident (Jespersen, 2018)*1

Why make playgrounds inclusive?

All children should have access to play. Therefore, an inclusive playground is 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.

Here are a few other reasons why inclusive playgrounds are important:

1. Play solutions for all make it possible for children of all abilities to interact, which decreases loneliness and promotes interactions. This can help promote physical health and well-being for all children.

2. When children of differing abilities play together, they enjoy each other's company and begin to know and care for people who are different than they are, thus promoting empathy, understanding, acceptance, and diversity.

3. Inclusive playgrounds allow children to interact with and learn from others with different abilities, play behaviours, or needs than themselves.

What do we mean by inclusive playgrounds?

Inclusiveness is about acknowledging that we are all different. Everyone cannot do everything, but everyone can do something – and everyone has limitations. However, one should be able to participate at some level in the public realm together with others. Inclusion and universal design are about having equipment, solutions, and playground designs that allow everyone access and use of equipment.

The term inclusive deserves an explanation. 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 notions, also depicted in Figure 1, is a great way to bring insight into the term inclusive.

Exclusion differs 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 is when people perceived within the norm have access to amenities, and those perceived not within the norm have access to different amenities in two separate circles without interaction.

Integration is when you have a circle with everyone in one place, where everyone within the norm has access to amenities, and those perceived not within the norm are in the same circle, but the amenities they have access to are fenced off, which limits interaction.

Inclusion is acknowledging that we are all different. We are all in it together - within the same circle, the same amenities can be used by all people in different ways.

Inclusive playgrounds are essential to creating a more inclusive and accepting society. By promoting social inclusion, physical activity, empathy, accessibility, and playground equipment that can be used and played on, inclusive playgrounds can help create a better future for all children.
Can I get there?
Can I Stay?
Can I play?

Evidence-based Specified Equipment for Inclusive Design

In recent years, more science-based and evidence-based research has surfaced with recommendations for designing inclusive playgrounds. Looking closely at these surveys, scoping reviews (Brown et al., 2021)*3 and KOMPAN's research, at least seven initiatives are helpful when planning playground design and equipment for inclusive playgrounds:

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

First of all, ensuring playground equipment can be accessed independently and with minimal transfer work tends to be favoured by those who have accessibility problems like physical restrictions or movement restrictions. This could 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. A raised sandbox enables wheelchair users to play without leaving the wheelchair as it fits under the raised sandbox.

3. Intuitive, easy-to-use playground equipment

Integrate easy-to-decode playground equipment, e.g., big seesaws on springs. Also, 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 helpful. High-capacity play equipment that encourages children to play together, such as large platform seesaws, large spinning equipment, and large basket swings, supports inclusion. It is essential that areas to climb have generous overhead and side spaces for 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 an important feature that will help some children to retreat from overstimulation. Individual play panels and dens are perfect for retracting from the physical play activity.

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 recommendable for inclusive playgrounds.

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

Lastly, 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, one's point of departure when designing inclusive playgrounds should be Accessibility – Inclusion – Usability prompted by the three following questions Can I get there? Can I Stay? Can I Play? (2019)*4

How to ensure that the playground is truly inclusive

As the research above suggests, accessibility has become common knowledge, e.g., the Playgrounds with Disabilities Act ADA (2001)*5. With recent research from Everyone Can Play, the New South Wales Guideline (2019)*4, and Canadian publication Creating Inclusive Playgrounds (2022)*6, inclusion is also well underway. Thus, guidance is hard to come by when it comes to usability and achieving the thrill of the actual play experience: and that is what the Inclusive Playground Checklist is all about.

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 several international conferences and scientific and organizing boards 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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