In 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act guaranteed that all public facilities, including play areas, must be made accessible to people of varying ability. Whether you're designing a public play area or hoping to create an outdoor play space in your own home for your differently-abled children, thoughtful design choices and the selection of specialised play equipment ensures that all children, regardless of abilities, are able to learn and grow through play in a safe and accommodating environment.
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Children with limited mobility may struggle to climb stairs or ladders unassisted, so a variety a ground-level play equipment provides opportunities for independent activity without the risk of injury. Sand or water tables and sandboxes provide sensory stimulation without requiring children to climb onto large structures. Small trampolines with grip bars help build a child's motors skills, balance and muscle strength as he bounces and plays. Kid-friendly seating areas are also useful for promoting socialisation and encouraging special needs children to develop interpersonal skills.
Swings and Swing Sets
Traditional swing seats don't provide back support and children with balance problems are susceptible to falling. Moulded swing seats are designed to ergonomically support the swingers head, neck, back and legs for safe swinging. The seats might resemble slightly reclined chairs, or might resemble more traditional cradle-style child seats with a higher back. Wheelchair platform swings allow a swinger to wheel herself directly onto a flat metal platform; the front ramp is then secured with a chain and the user can swing forward and backward. Many swing seats also come with adjustable straps for additional security and support.
Balance equipment provides age-appropriate challenges for a child with disabilities while he develops his fine motor skills. Ground-level balance beams are suitable for a child with limited balance or mobility as caregivers can remain close by to assist if the child stumbles. For a more advanced child, elevated balance stones challenge a child to jump to each structure, honing her balance and strengthening her muscles. Balance boards or rocking seesaws are also options for playground equipment, but ensure that the equipment has anti-slip pads to prevent accidents and injuries.
Playground equipment that provides both tactile and auditory stimulation is engaging for a child with sensory deprivation disabilities and for a child with tactile defensiveness as a result of autism. Provide a xylophone wall where a child can create different tones and sounds. Wooden wind chimes also add an auditory element to the play space. A puzzle or maze wall that a child can complete through touch provides a play option for children with limited sight. Choose structures with textures such as fake wood grain or puckering to provide tactile stimulation as well as a means of navigating the space for a child with limited sight.
Additional accommodations ensure that all guests have a safe, comfortable experience at a play area. Opt for rubber padding instead of concrete or pavement as a surface material to reduce injuries from falls. Provide several quiet, shaded seating areas where caretakers can take children who become overstimulated from the environment. Access ramps should also be included to the general play area to accommodate wheelchairs.
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- Department of Justice; ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities; 1991
- ESpecialNeeds.com: Motor Skills/Gross Motor Skills
- Kompan: Playground Equipment
- The Center for Children with Special Needs: Playground Safety for Your Child With Special Needs
- White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group; Designing for All Children; Vicki L. Stoecklin