playground planning

How to design inclusive playgrounds

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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 guide you in the right direction!

Inclusive Playground Example

inclusive playground render - lareg

Inclusive playground design

Above is an example of a large playground, but no matter the size of your inclusive playground, have the following design features in mind.

  1. Can users get around? Start by ensuring accessibility to the playground. Plan for easy access to parking, and wide enough entries for wheelchair users to enter the playground.

  2. Choose inclusive playground surfacing that is easy to maneuver for users we mobility difficulties. Paths with guidance are helpful and will make it possible to get around and to equipment, and navigate the overall playground.

  3. Include quiet areas with benches and shading for caregivers and children that gets easily overstimulated to withdraw to.

  4. Design for both social and solitary play areas. Inclusive parks should offer both thrilling, social play options as well as quiet play with sensory playground equipment.

  5. Make sure that elevated-level and ground-level play activities are accessible and usable for users with mobility difficulties, either by a ramp structure or easy-access surfacing material. Ramp structures provide access to levels of play otherwise not reachable by, e.g., wheelchair users.

Often you can apply for inclusive playground grants to help realize your playground project.

To help the planning process, we have created an easy overview of the best practices for designing inclusive playgrounds in an inclusive play design guide. Download your free copy below.

What inclusive play equipment should you choose?

Choose from some of our top accessible playground equipment below.
Universal Carousel

PCM157

Universal Carousel

2 - 12 Years

484 ft2

8 Users

How to make your playground more inclusive

Our playground experts have helped design inclusive playgrounds for schools, daycares, parks, and community centers across the country. 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

When designing an inclusive playground, it's important to provide equal play opportunities for children with sensory or cognitive disabilities. You can do this by incorporating sensory play options throughout the playspace. This includes items with touchable and visual textures, areas with equipment for applying soothing body pressure, and other sensory experiences like outdoor musical instruments and scented plants. These features contribute to making the playground more inclusive and accessible for everyone to enjoy.

Children swinging on a cocowave swing on an inclusive playground

Challenging play opportunities

The key to success when planning inclusive playgrounds lies in offering a variety of play equipment. Providing options for physically challenging, thrilling, and sensory-stimulating activities, both for group and individual play, is essential for ensuring enjoyment by all. Opt for spinning, rotating, swaying, swinging, and rocking equipment that provide the physical thrill that appeals to many. Natural features and materials, visual elements, and instrumental pieces will round out the space, increasing play value and play retention.

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 effectively. Create signal transitions by strategically placing different textures and contrasting colors throughout your playground.

Additionally, integrating dramatic play elements, like themed equipment, will help many users connect with the playground by letting their imagination transport them elsewhere!

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 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! Incorporating parallel play options, such as side-by-side swings, springers, or spinning devices is a great way to encourage playground-goers of all abilities to interact and share in their joy.

Variety in play value

An inclusive playground should offer a mix of adventurous and quiet activities, catering to diverse play preferences. It should feature both physical, social-emotional, and cognitive-creative play activities as well as areas for relaxation and retreat when needed. By doing so, you can ensure a fun and safe play space for all.

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 American Disability Act was signed into law 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.

Have questions about how to design an inclusive playground?

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Research on inclusive playgrounds

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