Inclusive & Accessible Playgrounds

Whether you are a church, daycare, school, homeowners’ association or other organization with a playground, you probably have spent time thinking about making it wheelchair-accessible. Accessible playgrounds are playgrounds that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines so that those who use wheelchairs can enjoy the playground. Inclusive playgrounds exceed ADA guidelines and aim to make sure all kids, regardless of abilities, are able to connect, learn and grow through play.

Yet, special needs playground equipment does not always go far enough. Little Tikes Commercial strongly believes play for children of all ages and abilities should include fewer limits. It’s why we are big advocates of inclusive and accessible playgrounds for meaningful play. Our playgrounds help children play and take part in a variety of truly inclusive activities.

Your ADA-Compliant Playground

If you have a playground accessible to the public, it must by law be accessible to people with differing abilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 makes discrimination against those with disabilities illegal. Under the ADA, buildings and public spaces, including playgrounds, may need to be accessible to those with disabilities.

Also, the U.S. Department of Justice put new standards into effect in 2012, which created more requirements under the ADA. These new requirements mean custom playgrounds must follow these guidelines:

  • Sandboxes must have an accessible route to them
  • Ramps to higher levels must use accessible routes
  • Slides must have an available path to the stairs

If your organization has play equipment available to students, customers, clients or residents, you need to make sure your playground does not inadvertently discriminate against those with disabilities. You may need to install special surfacing, ramps, or other features to create wheelchair accessibility and ensure your playground meets the current guidelines so that everyone can play.

The Trouble With Traditional Special Needs Playgrounds

Accessible playground equipment sounds great in theory because it allows people who are on crutches or in wheelchairs to access them. But traditional ADA-compliant playgrounds also have some challenges, including:

  • They may not appeal to all children: Some ADA-compliant playground equipment may not appeal to children and some of the “cool” pieces of play equipment have not been accessible. There’s no point in creating a space if kids don’t want to play there. That’s why Little Tikes Commercial tests all of our designed play equipment with kids first. We ensure our equipment is ADA-compliant, inclusive, and is also something kids will enjoy.
  • They may separate special needs children from other children: Some playgrounds create an area with “accessible” equipment and another area for other kids. Separating kids by ability can do them a great disservice and can highlight physical and social differences rather than helping bring kids together.
  • They may not provide enough challenge: Some accessible playgrounds designed with simpler equipment might not challenge older children enough, and they may end up bored.
  • They may not be accessible for parents with special needs: It’s not just the playground that needs to be accessible. Are there spaces in your playground for caregivers of all abilities to access play equipment and rest areas?
  • They do not address all special needs: ADA-compliant playgrounds don’t always have the needs of children with autism or other similar spectrum disorders in mind. They may not consider sensory inputs, leaving those with vision impairment out of playtime. Little Tikes Commercial is careful to create truly inclusive playsets designed to allow everyone to take part with fewer limits.
  • They can be expensive and take up a lot of space: Traditionally, those wanting an accessible playground had to create large sprawling structures with expensive ramps. Little Tikes Commercial addressed this by creating play equipment designed for all children, allowing multiple uses for one piece of equipment by children of many skill and ability levels.

Inclusive Play is at the Heart of Our Designs

Our play components give the opportunity to play.

  • The Rock’n Ship Glider, a wheelchair accessible glider that features a gentle swaying motion and 70 square feet of deck surface for wheelchairs.
  • Our Therapeutic Rings provide upper body exercise and stretching, improves both strength and mobility, helping children do more for themselves on and off the playground.
  • The Talk Tube allows for downtime when children need to get away from the noise of the playground while still engaging in one-on-one play, from a distance.
  • Ramps with Double Rails allow for continuous gripping support, wheelchair turning areas, and transfer stations.
  • Our Activity Panels allow children to express themselves through music, mental exercises and exploration. Whether learning about rhythm, sound, and pitch or moving steering wheels or colorful balls across the panel to promote hand coordination in a playful way, we have accessible height activities that encourage range of motion exercise and imaginative play.
Kids playing on inclusive Rock N Ship Glider
universally accessible playground ramp

Little Tikes Commercial and Unlimited Play have teamed up as partners in inclusive play to create universally accessible playgrounds. Let’s work together to build a space that every child can enjoy, regardless of abilities.

The Difference Between Handicap-Accessible Playgrounds and Inclusive Playgrounds

Handicap-accessible playgrounds make it possible for children who use mobility devices, parents who are in wheelchairs or other users with disabilities to access equipment. Inclusive playgrounds are about more than providing an accessible piece of equipment. Instead, they create and design a playset that allows all children to play.

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Inclusive playgrounds provide multiple uses of equipment for people of different abilities, skills and conditions. The Rock ‘n Ship Glider, for example, is a climber and a swing that kids in wheelchairs and able-bodied kids can use at the same time.

What Inclusive Playgrounds Can Do

Inclusive playgrounds have several benefits, including:

  • They offer more value for your money: Because you’re not buying separate special equipment for some users, more of your equipment will get used more often. You can buy fewer pieces and create a better experience for kids.
  • All children get to benefit and play: With accessible equipment, children with or without certain conditions can play on the same equipment, often at the same time. This can help children of all ages and abilities develop their social skills and meet people who are different than them. It promotes compassion and more fun for everyone.
  • They help our communities: Inviting everyone to play creates an exciting opportunity for all parents and community members. While it’s nice to talk about ideas such as tolerance or inclusiveness, communities and organizations that create outdoor play structures to make those things happen start walking the talk.

How to Make Your Playground Inclusive

When making your playground less limited, you will want to consider the principles of inclusive playgrounds, such as:

  • Consider spacing: Extra spacing around play equipment lets parents help children and also makes it easier for children with disabilities in wheelchairs to get around.
  • Create quiet spaces: Create one quieter play space, further away from overheads and slides, where children can play without being overwhelmed.
  • Think about parents with different abilities: Site amenities such as benches and picnic tables need to include all parents, too.
  • Consider surfacing: Look for play environment surfacing which protects kids and provides a cushion but helps people with different ranges of motion navigate the area.
  • Group similar activities together: If you have physical and cognitive activity panels which produce music, for example, link them together and make some accessible from different levels, so children in wheelchairs and children who want to climb on top of the equipment can both play. Group this equipment further away from a quiet area, where children who get easily overwhelmed have a safe space.
  • Think about the children who will use your space: Play equipment appropriate for one age group may not be right for another age group. Cluster play activities together so children of similar ages can work together. Consider running an audit to find out who in your community needs ADA-accessible playground equipment and surfacing. For example, if you have children with visual impairment, they may want activity panels with music or sounds. You can also install activity panels with Braille to help all children learn more about Braille. Customizing your playground can help get your entire community excited about playtime.
  • Provide multiple levels of play: One of the significant challenges with inclusive playgrounds is that not all children can climb. Activity panels can work well for children who can’t climb easily while still offering them something to do. If you do have several play levels, offer a variety of ways to get up and down from the raised portion. Children who can’t easily climb ladders, for example, may want netting, ramps or other structures. Also, make sure there are many payoffs at the top of a structure, so kids have more to do rather than slide back down again. Make sure the upper level has enough space for multiple children as well as parents or guardians.
  • Don’t forget about fun: Fun is still the number one job of any play experience! Make sure you choose pieces that are cool and exciting for children.

Key Features


Our inclusive designs
give kids of all abilities the opportunity to play.


Access to play is carefully
considered in all designs, so everyone can play.


Kids of all abilities benefit
from playing with others. Our designs facilitate play for all children.

Fun for All

No matter what your
playground needs, we have inclusive designs and products to make sure everyone plays.

Contact Little Tikes Commercial Today for Custom Playground Solutions

If you need help putting together a fun and inclusive playground, contact Little Tikes Commercial. If you already have existing playground equipment or want to create an accessible playset within a limited space, we can customize solutions and recommendations that are right for you.

We also help you find grants and financing options, such as National Cooperative Leasing. Browse our selection of play equipment and solutions or contact us for specific needs. You can also request a quote or contact your local rep to get personalized support or find out more about the principles of inclusive play solutions that break down barriers to fun.

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