Inclusive boat playground structure

Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds

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Inclusive and 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. All public playgrounds need to include ADA-accessible playground equipment like specialized surfacing to ensure they meet accessibility guidelines.

Yet, ADA-compliant 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 playground designs for meaningful play. Our all inclusive playgrounds help children play and take part in a variety of truly inclusive activities.

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Children playing inside of inclusive playground boat structure

Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds

Our Partner in Play

Your ADA-Compliant Playground

If the public has access to your playground, then by law, it must be accessible to children with differing abilities. The ADA makes discrimination against those with disabilities illegal. Under their 1990 act, buildings and public spaces — including playgrounds — need to be accessible to people of all capabilities. Also, in 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice created new requirements under the ADA. Here are a few examples of the ADA requirements:

  • Sandboxes must have an accessible route.
  • Ramps to higher levels must have 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 ensure your playground follows these requirements. Otherwise, playgrounds may be inadvertently discriminating against those with disabilities. You may need to install special surfacing, ramps, or other features to create wheelchair accessibility to meet current standards so everyone can play.

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Child smiling while hanging from monkey bars

Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds

Design with Imagination

The Trouble With Traditional Accessible Playgrounds

Accessible playground equipment is great because it gives children who are on crutches or in wheelchairs access to playgrounds. But traditional ADA-compliant playgrounds have some challenges, including:

1. They May Not Appeal to All Children

Some ADA-compliant playground equipment may not appeal to children, and some equipment may not be accessible. There’s no point in creating a playground if kids don’t want to play there. That’s why Little Tikes Commercial tests our playground equipment with kids. We ensure our equipment is ADA-compliant, inclusive, and something kids will enjoy.

Wheelchair accessibility ramp Hickory Lane Park

Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds

2. They May Separate Children With Disabilities From Other Children

Some playgrounds have an area with accessible equipment and another area for other non-disabled children. We strongly recommend avoiding this segregation and opting for an overall accessible playground design instead. Separating kids by their abilities can be a great disservice, potentially highlighting the physical and social differences rather than bringing kids together.

3. They May Not Provide Enough Challenge

Some accessible playgrounds with simpler equipment may not be challenging enough for older children, and they may end up feeling bored and unfulfilled.

Many children with disabilities struggle with fine and gross motor, interpersonal, and cause-and-effect skills. Children with disabilities learn these skills best through experience, like by playing. Inclusive playground products allow these children to strengthen their skills, boost their self-esteem, and build a better future while having fun.

Other children with disabilities do not have physical impairments and will want to be challenged in their gross motor play, making it important to have a wide variety of challenges on your playground.

Girl in wheelchair using alphabet playground panel

Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds

4. They May Not Be Accessible for Parents With Disabilities

Your playground isn’t the only thing that needs to be accessible. Does your current playground provide access to play equipment and rest areas for caregivers of all abilities? According to available research, it’s estimated that 4.1 million to 9 million parents have a disability. This includes parents with sensory disabilities — like feeling easily overwhelmed with bright colors or unexpected loud noises — and those who are hearing or visually impaired, among others.

Consider that caregivers of all abilities may need to accompany children throughout the playground. They also require a rest area to easily supervise their child’s whereabouts and activities on the playground.

5. They Do Not Address All Disabilities

ADA-compliant playgrounds don’t always have the needs of children with autism or other spectrum disorders in mind. And, some playground designers may not consider sensory inputs, leaving those with vision impairments out of playtime.

When choosing inclusive playground products, be conscious of disabilities like:

  • Visual impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Acquired brain injuries
  • Psychological disorders
  • Social relationships
  • Speech impairments
  • Activity limitations

Little Tikes Commercial is careful to create truly inclusive playsets designed to allow every child to take part in playtime with fewer limits.

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Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds

How to Make Your Playground Inclusive

With an understanding of the importance of playground inclusivity, what steps can you take to integrate these concepts into your playground design? First, you will want to consider the basic principles of inclusive playgrounds, such as:

1. Consider Spacing

Consider the width, spacing, and elevation of your playground equipment. Extra spacing lets caregivers help children with disabilities navigate the play area, and makes it easier for children who use wheelchairs to get around.

2. Creating Quiet Spaces

Happy, adventurous children are bound to make noise — and that’s okay. But some children with disabilities can feel overwhelmed with too many stimuli, especially around overhead slides and other products that produce higher noise levels. Create a quieter play space further away from higher noise levels, where children can play without feeling overwhelmed.

3. Think About Parents With Different Abilities

Children should spend 30 minutes to an hour outside each day. When visiting the playground, parents are likely going to want to supervise and monitor their children’s safety. Outfit your playground with inclusive site amenities, such as benches and picnic tables, which caregivers will need to use as their children play.

4. Consider Surfacing

All children are working on developing their fine and gross motor skills. Children with disabilities are more likely to face navigational obstacles, with some children struggle with things like balancing and grasping. Look for play environment surfacing, which protects kids and provides a cushion, to help people with different ranges of motions navigate the area.

5. Group Similar Activities Together

If you have physical and cognitive activity panels — which produce music, promote fine motor movement, and encourage critical thinking skills — link them together and include a variety of accessibility levels so all children can play. Children who use wheelchairs and other adventurous children will naturally want to climb on top of playground equipment. Group this equipment further away from the quiet area, giving children who get easily overwhelmed a safe space to play.

6. Think About the Children Who Will Use Your Space

Playground equipment that is appropriate for one age group may not be appropriate for another. Cluster play activities together so children of similar ages and capabilities can work together.

Consider doing research to identify your community’s needs for ADA-accessible playground equipment. As an example, if there are children within your community with visual impairments, they may want activity panels with music or sounds. Additionally, you can install instruments, accessible swing seats, or accessible whirls and gliders, which all add inclusive value to your playground.

Customizing your playground helps get your entire community excited about playtime.

7. Provide Multiple Levels of Play

One significant challenge of inclusive playgrounds is that not all children can climb. Activity panels work well for children who can’t easily climb while still offering something fun for them to engage with on the playground. Include activity panels and other fun activities on upper levels, too, so children always have something to do.

If you have several play levels, offer a variety of ways to get up and down from the raised portion. Offer netting and other structures for able-bodied children to explore, as well as ramps for children with physical disabilities. Ensure the connected upper level has enough space for multiple children, as well as parents or guardians.

8. Most Importantly — Don’t Forget About Fun

Fun is still the number one job of any playground experience. Make sure you choose pieces that children find exciting. For our equipment, we get firsthand input from children about what products they found fun and those they don’t find as exciting. That way, we can make sure you deliver the most fun experience for the children in your community!

Boy in inclusive swing seat

Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds

The Difference Between Inclusive and Handicap-Accessible Playgrounds

Handicap-accessible playgrounds, as the name suggests, makes it possible for children with mobility devices to access equipment. Additionally, these playgrounds allow parents who are in wheelchairs or other users to accompany their children. In comparison, inclusive playgrounds acknowledge more than providing an accessible piece of equipment. They go a step further, creating and designing a playset that all children can enjoy.

Inclusive playground options are favored because they provide multiple uses of equipment for people of different abilities, skills, and conditions. For example, the Rock’N Ship Glider is a wheelchair accessible swing set and climber that children using wheelchairs and able-bodied children can use simultaneously.

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Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds

What Inclusive Playgrounds Can Do

Using inclusive playground designs has several benefits, including:

1. They Offer More Value for Your Money

When you buy an inclusive slide or other piece of inclusive equipment, you’re buying something that benefits multiple users, not just non-disabled children or children with disabilities. That means more children can use your equipment, and you can receive the most value for your money. You can spend less money by buying fewer pieces while creating a better experience for local children.

2. All Children Get to Benefit and Play

With inclusive equipment, children with or without disabilities can play on the same equipment, often at the same time. This integration helps children of all ages and abilities develop strong social skills by meeting people who are different than them. Learning these skills promotes compassion and more fun for everyone.

3. They Help Our Communities

Inclusivity 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 make those things happen.

Our unique Inclusive Obstacle Course has two lanes, one which is wheelchair accessible.

Group of children playing on playground spinner

Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds

Inclusive Play Is at the Heart of Little Tikes Commercial Designs

For your playground to be ADA-compliant, around 25% of your playground equipment should be inclusive to children with disabilities. At Little Tikes Commercial, our playground designs give every child an equal opportunity to play. Consider inclusive  components, such as:

  • Together Gliders: Our Together Glider is an inclusive playground component that gently sways. It has a 70-square-foot deck surface, giving users ample room for wheelchairs and assisting parents.
  • Turnabout Spinners: We teamed up with Unlimited Play to build Turnabout Spinners, an accessible spinning platform. All children can access the Turnabout Spinner with its ground-level entry point. It features enough surface space to allow children who use wheelchairs to comfortably use the spinner.
  • Ramps with double rails: Add safety and functionality to your ramps using double rails. These playground components allow for continuous gripping support, wheelchair turning areas, and transfer areas.
  • Activity panels: Activity panels allow children to express themselves through music, mental exercises, and exploration. Whether learning about rhythm, sound, or fine or gross motor skills, we have accessible-height activities that encourage a range of motion exercises and imaginative play.

We keep children’s caregivers in mind, too. On our website, you’ll find site amenities like swinging benches, waste disposals, and individual seating tables that will encourage families to stay at your playground longer.

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Inclusive and Accessible Playgrounds


Contact Little Tikes Commercial Today for an Inclusive Playground

Need help putting together a fun and inclusive playground? Contact Little Tikes Commercial. Do you already have existing playground equipment or want to design an accessible playground within a limited space? We can customize solutions and recommendations that are right for you. We can also help you find grants and financing options, such as National Cooperative Leasing.

Browse our selection of play equipment and solutions, or contact us online for specific needs. You can also request a quote or contact your local rep to get personalized support and find out more about the principles of inclusive play.

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