Feature Article - March 2010
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All Together Now

Making Play Safe & Accessible

By Matthew M.F. Miller

Design for Accessibility

Manufacturers also are becoming more aware of how children with special needs access and actually use the equipment, according to Teri Hendy. The design of handholds on items such as play panels is more consistent with the gripping or grasping abilities of children with limited hand strength. The type of surfacing used in a playground has the greatest impact on whether or not a child with a mobility-impairment can even get into the playground.

"They are paying more attention to the amount of energy used to access a component or to use the component," she said. "There is more emphasis on getting children up onto a structure so that they can view the world from an elevation. This is especially important to children that use wheelchairs. No person should be denied access regardless of whether it is a child or an adult who wants to supervise his or her children. Years ago the importance of accessibility was brought home to me when a friend of mine who lost his legs in Vietnam told me that he simply wanted to be able to go to a park and push his daughter in a swing. Something so simple that the majority of us take for granted he was denied access to because he could not get his wheelchair to the swing set."

Jennifer Knitter, superintendant of planning and development for the Woodridge (Ill.) Park District, knows firsthand how important accessible playgrounds can be to a community. The universal-design playground her organization built in 2009 was the first of its kind in the area. They relied on expert advice from a landscape architectural firm that was familiar with this type of design and also worked with an accessibility consultant to ensure their design truly did meet and exceed the Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG) requirements and promoted use by as many people as possible.

"From a safety standpoint, providing proper use zones is critical to all playground projects," she said. "Especially in existing playground projects where you are keeping existing borders in place. Remember not to design your playgrounds so tightly to your borders setback that when your contractor goes to build the playground, borders may need to be adjusted to accommodate for construction tolerances."