Playground design has changed over the years. In the 1980s and 1990s, playgrounds consisted of multi-level platforms with slides, jungle gyms and monkey bars, as well as swings – bucket swings for babies and standard swings for older kids. Although enjoyed by the majority of children who played on them, this playground design restricted who could utilize it and the experiences gained from playing on it. (Curbed)
As playground designs became more adventurous with climbing walls, splash pads, etc., kids were given opportunities to expand their play and become more engaged. However, these new innovative designs, although exciting to look at and discover, were not built for children with disabilities. Separate playground areas were built to meet their needs. Compliant? Yes. Inclusive? No.
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was revised by the Department of Justice in 2010. The revision, known as the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (“2010 Standards”), set minimum requirements for “newly designed and constructed or altered State and locacl government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial facilities to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” (Americans with Disabilities Act) By spring of 2012, compliance with the 2010 Standards was required for new construction and alterations. This meant that playground designs had to be accessible to all children. Ramps, barrier-free travel routes, accessible play options, and an appropriate surface beneath the play structures were now mandated. These requirements allowed kids with disabilities to play right alongside their peers. Compliant? Yes. Inclusive? Yes!
Companies such as Bliss Products, provide inclusive products that meet ADA guidelines for wheelchair access and special needs play. These products include wheelchair accessible site amenities and playground units, rubber or engineered wood mulch fall surfacing, as well as border access ramps for easy transitions into play areas. (Bliss Products) And not only do Bliss Products offer accessibility for children with disabilities, they also create opportunities for non-disabled kids to become acquainted with their disabled peers, thus becoming “open-minded, empathetic, and cooperative adults.” (HuffPost) Providing environments where children with disabilities can be given opportunities to experience fair and equitable play is what an inclusive playground is all about.