7 Inclusive Playground Features to Inspire

Grandparents with grandchild at the park. Getty Images.

Who lives in your neighborhood? Does your local playground include space for them?

Playgrounds are a vital public space for fostering physical, cognitive and, socio-emotional health-- there is a growing movement to extend these benefits to all.

Across the globe, we are seeing inspiring examples of playgrounds designed for intergenerational play, community fitness, and the full inclusion of persons with sensory disorders and physical disabilities.

These inclusive playgrounds spark the imagination for how inclusive design can remove barriers that have, in the past, excluded people.

A Quick Note on Inclusive Design

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets minimum standards for the accessibility of public parks. The act largely focuses on whether features are accessible to children who use wheelchairs. You can see a checklist of ADA guidelines here.

Inclusive design raises the bar even higher than these minimum standards. It asks how everyone, of all ages and abilities, can most fully enjoy the play features. Read here for a description of how universal design can facilitate inclusive play.

Below are seven inclusive play features to inspire.

Play Features to Spark the Imagination

Designing an inclusive play space is about much more than simply including inclusive features. It is about assessing the needs of your community and making an environment to meet those needs.

If your park is next to a school for the visually impaired, your community will benefit from different features than a park that is adjacent to a retirement community.

1.) Quiet Spaces for Children with Sensory Disorders

Resting in a quiet, safe place can be an important part of imaginative play. These spaces can provide opportunities for storytelling, reading, discussion and rest.

For children with sensory processing disorders, the opportunity to take breaks from a stimulating environment is particularly important.

2.) Raised Sand and Water Table

Play features at wheelchair/toddler/kneeling height provide a uniquely accessible play opportunity. Sand and water create a fun sensory experience that can be enjoyed by people of all ages as well as people who may lack fine or gross motor skills.

3.) Wheelchair Accessibility

Wheelchair accessibility can extend far beyond the ADA requirements. It is about more than having a ramp. Where does the ramp lead? Does it lead to play features that can be enjoyed by persons in a wheelchair? Does the playground afford opportunities for persons in a wheelchair to naturally play alongside children who do not use wheelchairs? This video beautifully showcases one community’s endeavors to create an inclusive play space.

4.) Auditory Features for the Visually Impaired

I was recently at a park that had drums crafted into the climbing features- you can imagine the fun this provide my toddler and me!

Here are some more ideas for features for the visually impaired.

5.) Fitness Equipment

Crossfitters, bootcampers, and parents who don’t know what to do with themselves while their children play may appreciate fitness equipment that is incorporated into the park. Outdoor fitness equipment can range from parallel bars and pullup bars to low-impact equipment.

6.) ADA Swings/ Disc Pods for Multiple Users

A traditional swing requires trunk control that some park users simply may not possess. ADA swings and disc pods provide opportunities for these users to also experience the vestibular benefits of swinging.

7.) Intergenerational Games

Durable outdoor games such as checkers, chess, and table tennis provide play opportunities that can bring together people of all ages.

What is Occupational Therapy’s Role in Inclusive Play?

There are some occupational therapists that specialize in inclusive design and serve as consultants. But, all occupational therapists are trained in assessing the physical, socio-emotional and sensory needs of individuals and communities. An occupational therapist’s understanding of how a person’s abilities impact their engagement with the environment uniquely poises them to serve as playground consultants.

If you have a playground project that you are involved in, consider reaching out to a local occupational therapist

Continue Reading