Universal Design for Inclusive Playgrounds

Inclusive Playgrounds: Because All Kids Want To Play!

Kids come in a vast array of colors, sizes, personalities and interests. But there is one universal trait that all kids share and that is the love for playgrounds and the desire to play. This is equally true for kids that have disabilities or special needs, which is why offering inclusive playgrounds is so important.

Inclusive Playgrounds that are Accessible for All

Unfortunately, most existing playgrounds – especially those that have been around for more than 20 years – were not designed with every kid in mind. More recently, however, strides have been made to design and build playgrounds that are at least accessible if not fully inclusive.

So, what does all that mean?

Generally speaking, inclusive playground equipment is where all kids can get to the play area and easily navigate through the playground. Primarily, accessibility focuses travel, movement, and entry. That means an accessible playground is easy for a person who uses a mobility device, such as a wheelchair, to maneuver in and around.

An inclusive playground, on the other hand, takes accessibility to a broader level. The aim with an inclusive design is to it not only accessible, but to encourage and enable children to engage with one another. This type of playground concept is often approached using what is known as “Universal Design.”

One source defines Universal Design as follows:

“Universal Design (UD) is an approach to design that increases the potential for developing a better quality of life for a wide range of individuals. It is a design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). It creates products, systems, and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation.

Other terms for Universal Design used around the world include Design for All, Inclusive Design, and Barrier-Free Design. UD terminology and meanings differ from one country to another and often reflect each nation’s societal values. Cultural differences influence how the movement has been adopted in different countries. However, the common goal of social inclusion transcends national laws, policies, and practices.”

Consequently, a universally designed playground is one that provides a sensory-rich environment that enables all children to develop physically, socially and emotionally. In addition, an inclusive playground is an engaging place providing varying levels of challenge and along with opportunities to succeed.

In other words, it is a play area goes beyond simple accessibility and creates play experiences for a variety of needs and interests.

Ultimately, an inclusive playground allows kids of all abilities to interact with each other and do what all kids want to do, which is to play.

What is Universal Design for Playgrounds?

Universal Design for Inclusive Playgrounds

According to Wikipedia, the concept of Universal Design originated in 1963, while the term itself came about in the 1990’s,

“Universal design is the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.

The term “universal design” was coined by the architect Ronald Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life. However, it was the work of Selwyn Goldsmith, author of Designing for the Disabled (1963), who really pioneered the concept of free access for people with disabilities. His most significant achievement was the creation of the dropped curb – now a standard feature of the built environment.

Universal design emerged from slightly earlier barrier-free concepts, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive and assistive technology and also seeks to blend aesthetics into these core considerations.”

The entire thinking behind Universal Design, whether applied to education, architecture, or playground plans, rests on seven principles developed in the late 1990s.

The Seven Principles of Universal Design for Inclusive Playgrounds:

  1. Equitable Use–The design does not stigmatize or disadvantage.
  2. Flexibility in Use–The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use–Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.
  4. Perceptible Information–The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error–The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low Physical Effort–The design can be used efficiently and comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use–Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture or mobility.

(Credit: Center for Universal Design 1997; Cornell et al, 1997)

In 2012, The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access at The University at Buffalo expanded the definition of the principles of universal design to include social participation and health and wellness. In addition, these eight goals were codified for Universal Design:

The 8 Goals of Universal Design for Inclusive Playgrounds:

  1. Body Fit–Accommodating a broad range of body sizes and abilities.
  2. Comfort–Keeping demands within desirable limits of body function.
  3. Awareness–Ensuring that critical information for use is easily perceived.
  4. Understanding–Making methods of operation and use intuitive, clear and unambiguous.
  5. Wellness–Contributing to health promotion, avoidance of disease and prevention of injury.
  6. Social integration–Treating all groups with dignity and respect.
  7. Personalization–Incorporating opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences.
  8. Cultural appropriateness–Respecting and reinforcing cultural values and the social and environmental context of any design project.

(Credit: Universal Design, Creating Inclusive Environments by Edward Steinfeld & Jordana L. Maisel)

When applied to playground equipment and play area design, the results are truly inclusive playgrounds that embody both accessibility and an environment that is conducive to engagement. In other words, a place where all kids, regardless of their abilities, can play equally and play together.

At Playgrounds Etc we are experts at inclusive playground installation and design and supply a great range of inclusive playground equipment. Be sure to check out all of our inclusive playground equipment for our full assortment or contact us to design a playground to meet your needs!


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