A key element in any inclusive playground is the principle of comfort and making sure the space is designed so that all users, regardless of age or ability, are comfortable. Research provided by Utah State University Center for Persons with Disabilities describes the appropriate size and space that makes a play environment comfortable for individuals including those with sensory needs, environmental sensitivities, unique body sizes and diverse postures, mobility and motor control. An inclusive playground recognizes these individuals’ wide range of needs and provides a play space that encourages people to stay longer and visit often.
Here are important factors that go into designing a truly inclusive, comfortable playground:
Approach & Reach Ranges
When designing an inclusive playground, consider the “approach and reach” on equipment for individuals who are both seated or standing. Offer “half panels,” balcony panels, or activities with adequate space underneath that allow individuals using a mobility device to approach and easily reach the play activity while facing forward. It’s also important to consider the height of installations: music activities, talk tubes and other freestanding components should be installed at appropriate heights for intended users’ ages ranges.
Space for Movement & Gathering
As in most places, people need space to feel comfortable. On a playground, that translates into designing enough space so that multiple users can engage in play and ensuring there is enough room for assistive devices/equipment on the playground. It’s also important to provide adequate space for users who may need personal assistance both on a play structure and at ground level. By designing adequate space throughout a play environment, you encourage social interaction between multiple users as they gather and move along decks, ramps and play activities.
Help Manage Environmental Conditions
A comfortable playground strives to balance users’ exposure to environmental conditions such as sunlight, shade, water and wind. We recommend adding elements that provide natural shade, such as existing or planted trees. Studies show naturalized play environments offer a wide range of social-emotional benefits for both children and adults. If natural shade is not possible, you can also consider adding freestanding or integrated shade structures. Water misters or zero-depth water areas offer additional cooling options.
Don’t Stop with Play Equipment
A comfortable playground doesn’t end with the play equipment! Consider adding other amenities to help keep users comfortable and promote interaction. Water fountains, restrooms with adjustable changing tables and accessible parking are all elements that keep users comfortable when they step off the play equipment. If possible, consider public transportation options available in your area when selecting a site for your inclusive playground. Part of making a space accessible is making sure people of all socioeconomic backgrounds can actually access the space.
That’s a wrap for our seven principles of inclusive playground design! Working together, we can create play and recreation spaces that everyone can enjoy. To learn more about the seven principles of inclusive playground design, request a free copy of the complete Me2 guidebook or contact a GameTime representative in your neighborhood to explore inclusive play options for your community.