Accessing Play

By Tom Norquist

As the playground industry's leading safety certification organization, the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) has been instrumental in advocating for safer community and school playgrounds. With its third-party independent testing program for equipment and surfacing products, IPEMA promotes proper planning, installation and maintenance as critical steps playground owners can take to help ensure a safer place for kids to play.

Alongside promoting safety certification, IPEMA has been a strong supporter of full access for all children and caregivers. IPEMA's membership companies believe wholly in the benefits and value of play and encourage communities to adopt universal design practices that incorporate inclusive play opportunities for children and caregivers of all ability levels.

The first step—and legal requirement—to incorporating universal design, however, is providing access. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a wide-ranging civil rights law prohibiting, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. Most public facilities, including public play spaces, must comply with ADA standards to ensure equal access for all.

Recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) provided updated standards for ADA compliance. Because altering playgrounds can be a significant investment, the new standards took effect as part of a phased-in approach—beginning in September 2010, when playgrounds could choose to comply when building a new playground or altering an existing one. Beginning on March 15, 2012, however, any new construction or alterations to existing public playgrounds must be in compliance with the updated DOJ standards.

To help minimize confusion in the playground industry, IPEMA has developed the "Checklist for Access," a user-friendly guide to help playground owners become familiar—and ultimately compliant with the standards.

A visual poster format (PDF) of the Checklist is available via the Voice of Play's Web site ( or by contacting IPEMA directly at Below, the Checklist is reprinted in a text format.

By creating the Checklist, IPEMA and the Voice of Play hope to help take the industry another step forward in providing play opportunities for all.

IPEMA's Checklist for Access

  1. Public Playgrounds must have an accessible route to the play area preferably 60 inches wide, maximum running slope of 1:20 and maximum cross slope of 1:48. The route to the play area is an accessible route. Minimum width is 36 inches and the maximum slope is 1:12. Any running slope over 1:20 or 5 percent is treated as a ramp with handrails and landings. (See Chapter 4, Accessible Routes, DOJ ADA 2010)
  2. Within the play area, the safety surfacing must comply with ASTM F 1292-99 or -04 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment when located within the use zone for proper impact attenuation. All accessible routes within the play area, clear floor or ground spaces at play components required to be accessible and turning spaces must comply with ASTM 1951-99 Standard Specification for Determination of Accessibility of Surface Systems Under and Around Play-ground Equipment.
  3. Within the play area, the accessible route must be at least 60 inches wide, with a maximum running slope of 1:16, a maximum cross slope of 1:48 and a minimum of 80 inches overhead clearance. For small play areas of less than 1,000 square feet in total size, the accessible route must be at least 44 inches wide, with a maximum running slope of 1:16, a maximum cross slope of 1:48 and a minimum of 80 inches overhead clearance.
  4. Composite play structures that include a transfer system as a means of access must meet the following criteria:
    1. Transfer platform height must be between 11 and 18 inches with clear minimum width of 24 inches and depth of 14 inches.
    2. Transfer steps are maximum of 8 inches high and include handholds to aid movement.
    3. Minimum 30-by-48-inch transfer space must be provided adjacent to the transfer platform. The 48-inch long minimum dimension of the transfer space shall be centered on and parallel to the 24-inch long minimum side of the transfer platform. The side of the transfer platform serving the transfer space shall be unobstructed.
  5. Composite play structures that include ramps that connect elevated play components as a means of access must meet the following criteria:
    1. Elevated ramps must be at least 36 inches wide, maximum running slope of 1:12 and maximum length of 144 inches (12 feet) before providing a landing.
    2. Elevated ramps must include handrails on both sides meeting hand-gripping criteria and with a height between 20 and 28 inches. Elevated ramps with handrails, barriers beyond the ramp edge and barriers not extending within 1 inch of the ramp surface must have edge curbing at least 2 inches high for the entire ramp length. No handrail extensions are required.
    3. When elevated ramps change in direction, a 60-by-60-inch minimum level landing must be provided at both the top and the bottom of each run.
  6. Elevated ramps and accessible platforms attached at ramp levels shall have no openings on surface greater than inch and vertical change in level less than inch or up to inch with a 2:1 beveled edge.
  7. Wheelchair-accessible platforms require guardrails or barriers. Openings for access/egress play components shall be narrowed to 15 inches or less.
  8. Advisory Reach ranges for accessible manipulative and interactive sensory and communicative components must have reach range heights between 16 and 44 inches for 9-to-12-year-old, 18 to 40 inches for 5-to-8-year-old, and 20 and 36 inches for 3-to-4-year-old user age groups.
  9. Ground-level upper-body equipment intended for use by a person using a mobility device must be less than 54 inches above protective surfacing.
  10. Ground-level play tables and components for users over 5 years old must have a minimum vertical knee clearance of at least 24 inches high, a minimum depth of at least 17 inches deep and a minimum width of at least 30 inches. The maximum top of playing surface shall not exceed 31 inches.
  11. Composite play structures must have elevated accessible routes by ramp and/or transfer systems to connect at least 50 percent of the elevated play components. Large composite play structures with more than 20 elevated play components must have at least 25 percent of the elevated play components connected by elevated ramps.
  12. Play areas must have the minimum number of accessible play components and types on the accessible routes per the following criteria: Remember it is one of each type at ground level and 50 percent elevated that must be accessible. The trigger to use the table is for Additional Number and Types. Where elevated play components are provided, ground-level play components shall be provided in accordance with Table and shall comply with 1008.4. EXCEPTION: If at least 50 percent of the elevated play components are connected by a ramp and at least three of the elevated play components connected by the ramp are different types of play components, the play area shall not be required to comply with


Tom Norquist is secretary of the International Playground Manufacturers Association (IPEMA). IPEMA's Voice of Play initiative aims to educate the public, parents, teachers and organizations about the benefits of play. For more information, visit

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