When it comes to providing play opportunities to children with disabilities, not all playgrounds are created equal. On most playgrounds in the United States, complex play structures with lots of stairs and uneven ground coverings like woodchips or gravel make play inaccessible to kids who depend on mobility aids like wheelchairs or walkers. Traditional swings or narrow slides are inaccessible to kids who need a caregiver’s support or the extra safety feature of a harness to use them.

While all new or renovated playgrounds must adhere to specific requirements stemming from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ADA compliance is only a bare minimum standard. An ADA-compliant playground might have an accessible entrance and transfer stations — spaces where a child in a wheelchair can pull themselves onto a play structure. But even with those features, many kids will still find themselves relegated to only parts of the playground and unable to enjoy many of its play features. The result is that crucial play opportunities remain limited or even unavailable to the more than seven million disabled kids in the United States.

Recognizing the limits of traditional playgrounds, some designers and city administrators have begun making efforts to go beyond basic access and ensure that more kids with various disabilities are included in playground design — through a philosophy of radical inclusion.

“There’s [always] a strong focus on ramps and stairs,” says Nathan Schleicher, lead playground designer at Earthscape, an organization that designs and builds custom playgrounds. “Ramps, stairs, and surfacing ended up being what define [an accessible] play space. But none of those things are play elements. We can do better than ramps, stairs, and surfacing. We can do better to be inclusive.”

Read the full article about creating accessible playgrounds by Marianne Dhenin at The 74.