Making Playgrounds Accessible
permission from the A.T. Journal, sponsored by the California Assistive
Technology Network http://www.atnet.org
Playground Renovation on the Table
Grass Roots Advocacy
When it comes to getting your
local playground renovated for use by all children, including
children using wheelchairs, the first thing to establish is
who built the playground. If the playground is a public facility,
the respective organization that built it has some obligation
to comply with the ADA.
Find out if you should be talking
to a private facility, school district, community center,
parks department, a government office (local, regional, or
federal), or neighborhood improvement association. Your alderperson
or counsel person should be able to find this out for you.
Talk to your community group. Talk to the alderman in your
area and call or write your congressperson. Make sure your
voice is heard, and then keep talking. Get others involved.
Solicit support from your friends and neighborseven
your child's teachers. Your local Center for Independent Living
or other disability-based organization can offer guidance.
Look, ask, and don't
get discouraged if you get nowhere at first; you'll learn
a lot from your research. Just remember that your son or daughter
needs and deserves access to outdoor recreation with other
kids. You'll be surprised how much support you'll get. If
it's appropriate, you or someone on your team can ask your
local businesses to underwrite part or all of the cost. All
you have to do is start.
Too often accessible elements
are left out of the design when it comes to parks and playgrounds.
Many playgrounds are covered in bark chips, making it impossible
to navigate in a wheelchair. Most playgrounds require climbing on
steps and ladders and slides are often too low and narrow. Many
playgrounds require traveling on grass or other natural terrain
just to get to them, calling the accessibility of the playground
itself into question.
There are a few contractors and playground designers
working on accessibility issues. They are few and far between but
many work in a large area. Installations have been done to improve
many of the issues mentioned in this article. For instance, ground
can be covered in a rubberized mat, which minimizes injury from
falls and makes the playground accessible to wheelchairs. Ramps
are installed alongside ladders, and pathways are widened. Gates
leading into fenced playgrounds are widened, and the springs used
to automatically close the gate are relieved of unnecessary tension,
making them easier to open for people with limited strength and
The question comes down to who is responsible
to make a playground accessible. This can be an expensive undertaking,
especially when the playground already exists and was built without
these options in mind. If the park is a public park, meaning it
is not owned by a private interest such as a home owner's association,
there is a compelling argument under the ADA to hold the parks
commission responsible for guaranteeing access to this public structure.
If it is privately owned there may be some work
convincing the owner or association that this is their responsibility.
The ADA allows for this because it's open to the public, but the
phrase "reasonable accommodation" is open to interpretation,
and has come under fire lately where individuals and businesses
do not want to pay for accessible remodels.
If you are unable or unwilling to pay for these
changes yourself you may need the aid of an advocate who can articulate
the argument and help a private owner understand the responsibility
of making facilities available to the public. The free services
of an advocate are available at your local Independent Living Center.
To find the center nearest you visit http://www.virtualcil.net/cils/.
Below are some accessible playground designers
and manufacturers. Call ahead to be sure they work in your area.
One Regency Drive
Bloomfield, CT 06002-2310
Grounds for Play
Possibility Place is a fully-accessible playground in central Pennsylvania designed for children with and without disabilities. Some of the components (photos on Web site) at Possibility Place are a large tree-house with ramps at different levels, a recording studio and stage for children to sing and perform, a large kaleidoscope in a lookout tower, and play areas connected by wide ramps and open spaces. A resilient ground cover was designed to make the travel of those in wheelchairs, on crutches or pushing strollers easier and safer.
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