Inclusive Playgrounds Benefit All Children

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.

Positive Impact of Parks on Communities

In the technology-centric world we live in, the latest smartphone, tablet, and gaming system are ever present in the lives of adults and children, alike. And no matter how advanced these devices become, they will be outdated as soon as they hit stores. Parks, on the other hand, are timeless, and they are more than just playgrounds. Today, parks include fitness equipment and running/walking trails, along with open spaces for athletic activities, picnics, community events, and even concerts. Playground equipment is inclusive, providing social opportunities for children to interact with others who may have different social, developmental skills, and ability levels.

 

Parks continue to be a crucial part of any community. They offer both children and adults a place to socialize and make new friends, hold picnics and community events, and participate in recreational activities. Parks boost the social ties within communities. And a growing sense of pride in a community leads to a decrease in criminal activity, especially amongst youth. Having a safe place to interact with peers and participate in athletic activities provides youth a positive environment. (Gardiner Green Ribbon

 

Parks are good for the environment as well. They aid in decreasing air pollution, and control water runoff. Green spaces boost community pride and attract residents who want to enjoy nature, which is beneficial to health and well-being. Parks attract businesses and residents, and increase property values, thus having a positive effect on the economy. (Perfect Mind)

Companies such as Bliss Products and Services know the importance of playgrounds in communities. For over 30 years, they have been the leading supplier of commercial playground equipment across the southeast, maintaining a strong reputation within the Commercial Outdoor Playground Equipment industry by providing a wide variety of products to meet the needs of city and community parks, schools, churches, and daycare centers. Play equipment from early childhood to age 12, dog park products, nature play schemes, and green solutions, as well as inclusive and special needs play are just a few of the products they offer. 

 

Bliss Products strives to provide the best customer service before, during, and after the purchase process. Sales representatives provide on-site consulting on playground options to best meet the needs of clients, and they work exclusively with factory-trained installers for a thorough and complete project. They offer 2D and 3D renderings to show how play pieces and playgrounds will fit into designated areas within a park. (Bliss Products and Services)

 

As cities continue to grow, it’s crucial that the importance of parks in urban development be remembered. From community pride to the economy to environmental impact, everyone benefits from neighborhood parks and playgrounds. And companies like Bliss Products are working hard to bring communities the best quality equipment to meet their needs. 

The Role of Playgrounds in Child Development

Handicap Accessible Playground Equipment

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” - Friedrich Froebel (Community Playthings).

 

Swinging, climbing, games, and free play are more than activities children participate in to release energy. What we view as mindless play is, in fact, developing a multitude of skills. Swinging helps develop balance and coordination, as well as fine and gross motor skills. Playing on overhead equipment, such as monkey bars, expand these skills as well. Climbing promotes body awareness and directionality, while also developing their problem-solving and making predictions. Playing ball games gives children the opportunity to increase motor coordination skills, learn how to follow rules, how to strategize and problem-solve, and how to communicate with others. Free play encourages communication and, therefore, increases vocabulary and socialization skills. (Understand.Org)

 

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), children learn through play. Cognitive skills are developed through problem solving and pretend play; running, swinging, and climbing increase physical abilities; language skills increase just through communicating with other children; and children learn to be social by playing together and having fun. Through play, children grow strong and healthy. Their anxiety and stress is reduced as they grow emotionally. They learn to establish and follow rules, many they create themselves as they devise new games. Play provides learning opportunities for children, which has a positive impact on their self-esteem.

 

Playgrounds and parks are not only good for child’s play and building neighborhood camaraderie. Spending time with new friends, participating in recreational activities, and enjoying nature are important in maintaining good mental health. Finnish researchers found that “ten minutes in a park or urban woodland are could tangibly reduce stress.” This is true for children as well. Playgrounds and parks afford parents opportunities to bond with their children. Pushing them on the swings, waiting to catch them when they reach the bottom of the slide…priceless memories. 

As children grow, so do their development skills. Toddlers become more social and interactive. School-aged children need to be challenged. Eye-hand coordination increases, along with motor skills, problem solving, and social interaction. Climbing and free-standing pieces provide children with opportunities to build confidence. Bliss Products can design playgrounds to enhance a child’s self-confidence and developmental skills and address social and physical inclusion. All children deserve the right to play. (Play & Park)

Bliss Products and Services knows the positive impact playgrounds have in communities. For over 30 years, they have lived up to their strong reputation by providing quality products to meet the needs of cities, communities, schools, and the people who utilize them. Their early childhood equipment and activities can be customized to fit specific needs, and are designed to stimulate the senses while keeping children entertained.

Hurricanes and Playgrounds

Your playground was designed for normal wear and tear, and in most instances will weather the inclement weather just fine.  But there are a few things you can do prior to help it survive the storm, as well a few things to check on afterward.

Before the storm:

It goes without saying that anything loose around the playground area needs to be secured: trashcan lids, signage, et cetera.  Things that are loose now will certainly get worse during a storm.  Pay special attention to surrounding trees - by far the most common cause of playground damage is falling trees and limbs.  If that old oak is half dead, you might consider being proactive and dropping some limbs before Mother Nature does it for you.

If your playground has a freestanding or integrated fabric shade, you need to take it down following the manufacturer's recommendations.  While fabric shades are designed with some pretty high windloads in mind, they are simply not designed to hold up through hurricanes, nor are they designed to deflect branches, shingles and other flying debris common with high winds, which will often rip right through them.

After the storm:

Many times parks are situated in low lying areas which are prone to flooding.  If your playground was underwater, pay special attention to:

  • Footings around posts and end supports might be soft or have eroded. You may need to pull back the surfacing to inspect.  Note that wood playgrounds will often show rot BELOW the surfacing!
  • Moving components may have silted up. Rinse with fresh water to remove grit and lubricate if required - follow manufacturer's recommendations as some lubricants can actually damage components.
  • Nonmoving components may have loosened up! Check all fittings and connections to make sure they are still snug.
  • Rotationally molded plastic components , like slides, can actually fill with water which may distort the plastic over time. Check with the manufacturer first but one solution is to drill a small hole on the underside of the item to allow for drainage - some place not very accessible.
  • Flood waters in coastal areas can be salty. Flood waters everywhere can also include chemicals or even sewage that may have leaked during the storm.  It's a great idea to lightlypressure wash your structures to help minimize potential for rusting hardware and pay special attention to where kids might place their hands to keep things clean.

Surfacing:

Pay special attention to your surfacing - the majority of accidents are still due to falls to the ground. Of course remove branches and debris from your surfacing.  

  • While a lot of loose fills knit together and don't readily float, the current from flood waters can wash surfacing away, so take a moment and check the depth of surfacing.Remember CPSC guidelines require a minimum of 6" of rubber chips and 9" of wood chips or sand.  Your original installation might have included more - look for grade markers on your equipment to confirm depth as well.
  • Poured in place, rubber tiles and turf are typically porous. If your playground had standing water, it's not a bad idea to flush the surfacing to try and remove anything harmful.  Beware of using a pressure washer though, you may actually damage the surface.
  • Poured in place, tiles and turf are commonly built on a layer of compressed stone that may have shifted during the storm. If you feel voids as you inspect the playground, reach out to your supplier for solutions.  A loose base will eventually create bigger problems down the road, like cracks and tears.
  • Turf surfacing include an infill, which can be sand or encapsulated sand to help hold down the surfacing, prevent wrinkles and help the turf 'stand up.' You may need to add infill and brush out the surfacing to bring it back to life.  Tears at seams or pulling away from borders need to be repaired by your turf vendor.

Last, take plenty of pictures before you begin clean up!  You might need them for insurance claims and your vendors might need them to help you identify broken parts and find replacements.   Manufacturers and their sales agencies can help you with further issues - always get their recommendation first before trying your own repair.

Inclusive Play: Fun For Every Child

Experts agree collaborative play is vital in the development of mental and physical health and social skills in children and adults. Important social skills are learned in collaborative play which carry over into adulthood. In recent years, communities have been actively involved in redesigning or creating recreation areas which will serve all groups of people; children of different ages, genders, and those with special needs. Parks can be an important public resource in improving the quality of life and physical well-being of a community. When a playground area is inclusive, these parks can provide the opportunity to create awareness, break down barriers, and build friendships.

Often children need to learn strategies to learn how to play together. Play is a great way to help children understand a child with a disability is able to do many of the same activities, even if they have to do it differently. 

Discussing these ten character traits with children can help provide a foundation for inclusive play:


1) Be Respectful - Respect similarities and differences.
2) Be Kind - Be warm, welcoming, celebrate accomplishments.
3) Be Patient - Ask before assisting; wait while they go at their pace.
4) Be Responsible - Signal an adult if you see a potential danger.
5) Be Trustworthy - Be dependable and honest.
6) Be Fair - Be creative to find new ways to include others.
7) Be Persevering - Keep trying when communicating and playing.
8) Be a Leader - Be a good sport, be friendly, and give them space.
9) Be Courageous - Invite all kids to play even if it is intimidating.
10) Be a Good Citizen - Show that kids of all abilities are valued.

 

Important decisions need to be made before building the play area.

According to PlayCore Inc., inclusive play environments should meet the seven Principles of Inclusive Playground Design:

1) Be Fair- The equipment can be used by people of all abilities.
2) Be Included-Supports the participation of people with diverse abilities.
3) Be Smart- The play environment is easy to understand.
4) Be Independent -Allows children to explore and play at their own level
5) Be Safe- Provides graduated levels of challenge while being safe.
6) Be Active-Supports various degrees of physical and social play, but minimizes unnecessary fatigue
7) Be Comfortable - Environment is usable for individuals with sensory needs, diverse body size, posture, mobility and motor control.

There is a difference between an accessible playground and an inclusive playground. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) an inclusive playground has no physical barriers, but not all components have to be wheelchair accessible. The playground's surface must allow ease of motion for wheelchairs. Adaptive swings, playground features accessible at ground level, and ramps which allow access at upper levels of the play structure are usually provided. Wheelchair accessible gliders and treehouses with ramps leading to and through the structure are now available. Some new equipment is designed to have an eight-foot ramp added to any structure.

More than any other types of instruction, outdoor play has been proven to stimulate speech, cognition, gross and fine motor skills, and develop social interaction skills. The right equipment and surface can make all the difference in providing a safe, fun, and inclusive play area.

Playground surface is another important element in designing inclusive playgrounds to allow children of all capabilities to enjoy a play area. Choosing the right surfacing will depend on your budget, the amount of use the playground gets, the ability to maintain the surface, needs for durability, drainage and accessibility. 

There are many choices when it come to surfacing, each with their own benefits: According to PlayCore, Inc., choices include:

Engineered Wood Fiber

Loose-fill Rubber

Poured in Place Rubber

Bonded Rubber Surfaces

Rubber Tiles

Read more about proper fall surfacing for all play environments

Find the Right Outdoor Playground Equipment for Early Childhood Development

When we think of small children playing on the playground, we smile. What many people don't realize is how important in a child's development this time on the playground can be. There is abundant research on the benefits of playground play in the development of children's social/emotional, physical, sensory, cognitive and communication skills.

When children are involved in unstructured playing, they are learning. This learning - emotional, social, motor and cognitive is enhanced by this play. Play involves the body (running and jumping); the mind Imagination), equipment and props (playground equipment and toys), and words (singing joking) The most crucial time for a child's development is the earliest years. Play stimulates a child's brain development and function and helps build the brain's foundation, organization, and capabilities.

There is a definite difference between the structure of a gym class and the spontaneous play on a playground. Random play with children of all ages and backgrounds can develop imagination, motor skills, and social interaction because the child must be able to adjust to unscripted activities. Correctly designed playgrounds will incorporate six key elements of play to address fitness, physical activity and overall child development.

These six elements are:

  1. Brachiating (Move by using the arms to swing from branch to branch)
  2. Climbing
  3. Swinging
  4. Sliding
  5. Spinning
  6. Balancing

Very early childhood is a time of rapid change and learning. Toddler playgrounds help them learn about the world around them while developing strength and stability. Before they can even go to school, preschool play equipment can develop cognitive skills and prepare toddlers for the social environment of school. Motor skills, balance, physical skills, and sensory experiences are developed and enhanced through toddler playgrounds. Active play can encourage exercise and physical activity, which can later on develop into an active lifestyle.

"Crawl & Toddle, Cruise-a-Long, Play Station, Sensory Wall, Object Recognition, and The Big Outdoors" are play equipment developed specifically for the 6 months to 2 year old age group. Multiple textures, brightly colored themes, and play equipment which graduates in challenge, will attract this varying group of toddlers to explore and imagine.

According to PlayCore. Inc., for children ages 2-5 " play equipment should be lower to the ground, have a wider base of support and incorporate upper-body components that are designed to support young children's body weight at a very low level. Activities that focus on upper body bilateral coordination and the patterning for climbing are the prerequisite skills that provide a foundation for brachiating."

Swings and slides are playground activities that help develop balance and spatial awareness plus fine motor skills such as gripping and gross motor skills such as pumping of the legs to go higher. Also, the cognitive awareness and coordination of putting these skills together is developed.

Playground equipment which involves climbing builds a body awareness and coordination of their body parts. Problem solving skills are developed and a sense of pride from accomplishing this task. This self-esteem and cognitive abilities extend from the playground to the classroom.

Providing a balance of these four different types of play will provide multiple opportunities for child development:

  1. Free Play is play that is without adult input or guidance.
  2. Imaginative play is free play that involves the children using their creativity with elements of dramatic play, pretend or make-believe.
  3. Guided play has a loosely defined framework of social rules.
  4. Directed play occurs under the direction of an adult usually to meet a specific objective.

Free play in playgrounds is important in the development of verbal and social skills shown by the creation of fantasy games. A game of tag or making a piece of playground equipment into a castle, the children learn to negotiate roles, compromise, to lead and to follow, and work together. They also learn self-control and to take turns in order to continue to keep playing in the "game." Playground equipment that links different elements together provides multiple opportunities for children to socialize in different types of interaction; nooks and crannies for one or more children or adult and child to play.

It's important to remember that the very act of playing is a vital component in the development of a child's brain, body, and cognition, and lays the grid for neural pathways through repetitive motions. It allows a child to imagine, create, and explore through interaction with playground equipment and peers while building the social, verbal, and problem-solving skills necessary in today's world.

Bliss Products offers equipment for young children which challenges and develops fitness and self-confidence. Equipment such as the Crawl & Toddle, Cruise-a-Long, Play Station, Sensory Wall, Object Recognition, and The Big Outdoors build fine and gross motor skills, fitness, agility, and problem-solving skills. The use of freestanding play pieces and the increase in climbing events, allow children to build their confidence while still creating a safe and fun atmosphere.

Benefits of a Dog Park

With the increasing number of studies and research cases focused on dog behavior, communities are rapidly adding dog parks in subdivisions, county parks and other park like areas.  These dog parks now include equipment tested and designed specifically with dogs in mind.

Some benefits of off-leash dog parks for dogs and their owners:

  • Dog parks provide enjoyable ways to recreate and exercise for dogs and their owners. Dogs can run around to their heart's content, explore new territory and different smells, play with other dogs, and play with new toys.
  • Dog parks provide a social outlet for dog owners and dogs which can be beneficial to the community. Dogs are social animals and need to develop their own communication skills by meeting unfamiliar dogs. This can prevent the development of fear or aggression around other dogs. Owners can socialize with fellow dog lovers, develop a closer bond with their dog through play, and just enjoy the amusing behavior of the other dogs.
  • Dog parks provide an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and nature. Dogs love being outside with their owners, being energetic.
  • Dogs need to lead active lives. In the past, dogs were hunters, herders and protectors with a great deal of social interaction. Today's dogs spend a great deal of their days alone, napping. They can become lonely, bored, overweight. It's no surprise when they find activities like chewing on shoes or raiding garbage cans to use up excess energy.

According to pets.webmd.com: the ideal dog park should have:

  • Enough space for normal interaction. The area should be big enough for dogs to run around and space themselves out. If there’s not enough square footage available, a park can easily get crowded. Crowding can lead to tension among dogs and, as a result, fights can erupt.
  • Secure fencing and gates Even if your dog reliably comes when called, it’s safest to take her to a securely enclosed area to play off leash. Before you let your dog run free at a dog park, make sure that fencing is sturdy and free of holes. It’s also best if the park enclosure incorporates double gates or an interior “holding pen” at the entrance, so people and their dogs can enter and exit without accidentally letting other dogs slip out of the park.
  • Clean-up stations A dog park should have trash cans and bags available for people to clean up after their dogs.
  • Water and shelter Especially in warmer climates, exercising dogs should have access to both drinking water and shade.
  • A separate area for small dogs. Small dogs need exercise and play time too, but they can sometimes get injured or frightened by larger dogs. Many dog parks designate separate areas for smaller or younger dogs so that they can play safely.
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Today's dog parks offer agility-based courses which are expertly configured from novice to expert. There are combination courses for large or small dogs, hoop jumps, doggie crawls, dog walks, stepping paws, and teeter totters, to name just a few of the pieces of equipment available. A great example of this, is Bark Park Products from Ultra Site. The equipment can even mimic a wooded area with tree stumps, log tunnels, and stepping stones. There are even pet waste stations marked with signage available with hand sanitizer.

Please make sure your dog is fully vaccinated and protected against fleas. Always observe your dog to make sure their interactions with other dogs stay friendly. Dog parks are really good places for dogs who love to interact with other dogs.

Bliss Products has the expertise and products to make your dog park a welcome addition your community in public parks, multi-family housing areas, rest areas, hotels, RV parks, airports, and doggie daycare centers. Their products are slip-resistant, durable, resistant to vandalism, all weather, UV protected, and urine resistant plus made in the USA.

References Cited:

pets.webmd.com
PlayCore, Inc.
srpplayground.com/benefits-of-dog-parks-in-communities
www.aaastateofplay.com/ten-reasons-you-need-the-dog-park-as-much-as-your-dog/
https://www.petsafe.net/learn/dog-park-benefits-how-barking-for-a-park-can-help-you-and-your-pet
Bark Park by Ultra Site

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Outdoor Fitness Equipment is a Must in Local Community Parks

Think park playgrounds are just for children? Think again! The playground is now a place where families can come together for recreation and fitness: today's modern parks are being built with adult and children's fitness in mind. It used to be that an adult would find it difficult to fit into all the playground equipment nooks and crannies, however new equipment being developed today makes it easy for children and adults to enjoy being together while working out.

In addition to giving care givers and children a shared experience outdoors, adult fitness parks are being developed to help stem the steadily rising problem of adult obesity. These new fitness parks encourage physical activity which is both affordable and enjoyable. Current research shows that this outdoor fitness equipment is providing adults a means to more vigorous physical activity. This equipment is free for use by the public and may be in areas near playgrounds or other recreation spaces.

The local community will also benefit from having outdoor exercise equipment available to the public, which include combating obesity for people of all fitness levels and creating a social outlet for the community. This encourages interest in health, nutrition and educational programs. Having these outdoor fitness areas located within sight of children's playground equipment, encourages families to work out together. Having this positive influence can start children down the road to lifelong fitness.

Overall benefits of exercising, multiply when using outdoor equipment. According to actionfitoutdoors.com, " Research shows that exercising outdoors has many benefits that may not be realized in an indoor environment. People with greater access to green environments exhibit better well-being and functioning scores in social, physical, and psychological domains.

In addition, there is research showing outdoor exercise:
- Can prevent certain diseases
- Improves adherence rates to exercise
- Provides greater feelings of revitalization and positive enjoyment
- Decreases tension, confusion, anger, and depression
- Increases energy
- Helps seniors reach higher levels of physical activity."
- Get Vitamin D
- Boost serotonin
- Improve overall mood and well-being

Gary Liguori, PhD. is a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the head of the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Dr. Liguori believes there are four elements of fitness critical for everyone in terms of overall wellness and to in chronic disease prevention: aerobic fitness, muscle strength, flexibility and balance. When choosing the equipment for adult fitness parks, designers are able to pinpoint what area(s) of fitness each piece of equipment will target.

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Much of the equipment offered by companies such as PlayCore, Inc. and ActionFit will target three to four of these elements of fitness. Equipment such as the elliptical, upright cycle, hand cycle, cardio walker plyometric box, vertical press, balance plank, chest press, and others provide multiple elements of fitness. Some equipment offers tailored enhancements like hand holds and back supports to provide addition support and stability for older users.

These outdoor gyms bring the latest in exercise methodology to provide the maximum workout for people of all fitness levels. Because your own body weight is used as resistance, the equipment is effective while tailored to each user. Both cardio and strength training needs can be met with this equipment. These fitness parks are designed to withstand the elements while being aesthetically pleasing to its environment.

There are infinite possibilities for the use of outdoor gyms in venues other than parks. Schools are one area where this equipment can inspire students and teachers to have fun while becoming more fit. Concentration and ability to focus and learn can be improved. What better way to introduce exercise and social interaction to children who spend an ever- increasing amount of time playing video games or using social media? The instruction guides which explain each piece of equipment's use can be used for instructional purposes as well.

County parks, housing developments, apartment complexes, and senior centers would benefit from outdoor gyms by increasing the strength and fitness of the community while providing a place for social interaction for families and neighbors. A fitness park can also add value to the area and provide a meeting area for groups. Partnering with qualified health care providers to offer community health screening can provide access to users who would otherwise not have baseline information about their individual health. This can promote healthy lifestyle changes or identify undiagnosed health issues which can be addressed.

Corporate campuses offer a unique and important setting for outdoor fitness gyms. Providing a place for improving fitness makes a statement that employees are valued which can lift morale while increasing the health, and productivity of employees.

Hotels and resorts which provide outdoor fitness areas can add to the repertoire of activities offered to their guests. These areas may attract visitors who may not normally use an indoor gym to become introduced to fitness equipment. This opportunity will be appreciated and remembered by your guests.

Fitness parks can also serve those with special needs by providing equipment that helps people managing an illness or physical challenge to become more fit and possibly improve mobility. Combined with rubber pour-n-place and access ramps, fitness areas can be easily converted into an inclusive play area allowing people of all fitness levels and abilities to benefit from the exercise. In fact, a facility can offer fitness classes to the community which can be revenue-generating. It is important that any trainer hired be a certified personal trainer. Adult fitness parks may also qualify for increased grant funding related to obesity prevention/reduction.

Bliss Products and Services has designed multiple fitness trails and workout areas for clients and municipalities. We are able to custom design any outdoor fitness area based on several options: age group, accessibility, area restrictions and existing landscape. Our inclusive products meet ADA guidelines for wheelchair access or special needs play. These products can be incorporated as needed to a fitness or play area.