Feature Article - March 2010
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All Together Now

Making Play Safe & Accessible

By Matthew M.F. Miller


Design for Safety

Tom Norquist, former president of IPEMA, Harrisburg, Pa., and current head of Voice of Play, a Website promoting the benefits of children's play and playgrounds, said that it doesn't take high-tech equipment to make a playground safe and accessible, just safe design.

"It's important to ensure age-appropriate design, that the playground uses IPEMA-certified play equipment and surfacing and that it has adequate sight lines," Norquist said. "Implementing looping patterns in the design is a critical factor."

Looping, a full turn in the middle of a random movement route on the playground, gives playground supervisors a 360-degree view of the play area. Additionally, Norquist said not building to minimum use zones adds additional surfaced areas for traffic and looping patterns.

The location of various components within the composite structure also can impact safety. Hendy said that how children get on and off of the equipment and the location of egress components, such as slides, in relation to access components, such as climbers and steps, can impact safety.

"Where you locate things such as merry-go-rounds, track rides, swings, anything with a lot of movement impacts safety," she said. "You don't want to place a swing in an area where children will be constantly going through the swing to get to the rest of the play area. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends placing items with movement such as swings on the perimeter of the play area."

She said it's also important to have play areas designed that will encourage a variety of active and passive activities encouraging fantasy play as well as hard active play.

Skulski said that manufacturers today do a great job of designing playground equipment for people with cognitive disabilities, and are focusing their design efforts on the ways they can use colors to differentiate between equipment.

"The actual play components are one color, and the safety barriers or railings are a different color," she said. "One of the playgrounds that is in Rockford, Ill., they had ground-level spinners that you stand on and spin around. For the surfacing, they did a circular, spiral design for the whole radius of that use zone so that the color on the surfacing indicated to other kids to stay out of the way. As one child is spinning around, everyone knows to stay off of the purple, spiral parts."