A New Standard for Playgrounds

By Jodelle Tan, 8 80 Cities Intern

What do the playgrounds in the image above have in common? What makes them different from a standard park with a couple of slides and swings?

Simply put, they are inclusive. May Recreation, a park and playground equipment company, defines the term inclusive playground as “a safe place where children of all abilities can play together and is developmentally appropriate for children with and without disabilities.” This short description might make building inclusive playgrounds seem like a straightforward task. However, one will quickly realize that this is not the case.

Planning and building inclusive playgrounds go beyond deciding to add a single ramp to a play structure or installing an accessible swing beside a swing set.

Taking inspiration from the 7 Principles of Universal Design, Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities and PlayCore Inc. created a guide with 7 Principles of Inclusive Playground Design to capture what children want to feel and experience while playing and the elements that contribute to constructing playgrounds for all.

These are the seven fundamentals that play areas need to “be”:

      1. Fair: Surfaces and pathways to and throughout each space can easily be used by people of all abilities and encourages an atmosphere of mutual respect and acceptance.
      2. Inclusive: Equipment fosters intergenerational play, provides engagement with others and allows for movement and motion for individuals’ diverse abilities.
      3. Smart: Activities stimulate the auditory, tactile, and visual development of children.
      4. Boundless: Ramps have enough room for people with mobility devices to explore the structures while letting their peers accompany them.
      5. Safe: Plenty of comfortable seating structures are positioned around, on, and below the play structures for supervision and “jump-in points” so that children can rest until they are ready to join in again.
      6. Active: Play structures are appropriately challenging, develop users’ skills, and build confidence.
      7. Comfortable: A balance of shade and sunlight protects all who are visiting from environmental elements.

When playgrounds are inclusive, they bring multiple benefits to communities:

      • Encouraging physical and social inclusion
      • Increase the use of facilities as more people of all ages and abilities gain access.
      • Contribute to the positive development of children through appropriately challenging and stimulating structures
      • Allow for intergenerational play, particularly between children and their grandparents, and
      • Grow community capital by expanding social networks.

Therefore, ensuring playgrounds are wholly inclusive is a vital element in making cities more equitable. Inclusive playgrounds should not be the exceptions; they should be the standard.

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