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Parks in the U.S. are typically non-inclusive, meaning children with disabilities do not have all of the special accommodations needed in order to be as safe as possible while playing.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has mandated that play areas and parks be accessible to all children , but this does not necessarily mean they are built so that kids with different types of disabilities can play equally.
The Importance of Play
Play may only seem like fun and games, but it is an important part of growing up that helps develop intellectual, emotional, sensory, social and physical skills. Children need a safe place to play to nurture these areas of growth, and playgrounds should certainly be the one place they can go as they afford fresh air, space, and play equipment.
As you assess the parks around you, you may ask about what accommodations are being made for children’s physical disabilities or how many swings are available to accommodate children in wheelchairs? Some may argue that it is simply too expensive to create areas within playgrounds for every type of disability, but others argue there is no cost to protecting the development of our future generation of children.
Universally-designed playgrounds seem to be the answer to the issue. These spaces allow all children, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, a way to play freely.
About Universally-Designed Playgrounds
Universally-designed playgrounds, also called inclusive playgrounds or universally accessible play environments, are created so that every child has a way to challenge all five areas of developmental skills during play. 
Kids with cerebral palsy and other disabilities often need to break up developing their skills in different ways. For instance, some children do better with less sensory stimulation, while others need more. Inclusive playgrounds allow several different options for children to choose from, typically divided into several different areas within the play area.
Inclusive playgrounds not only meet the current ADA standards, but they go above and beyond the requirements by:
- Creating play environments that help children of all abilities develop their cognitive, emotional, physical, sensory and social needs
- Meeting the needs of the wide ranges of disabilities that children with disorders experience
- Developing a design appropriate for different ages and level of fitness
- Building a common ground between all children, regardless of disabilities
- Providing ground surfaces and wide ramps for children that use mobility aids, such as wheelchairs
When common play areas are transitioned to inclusive spaces, you will see many updates and accommodations to meet the needs of all children. For example, slide stairs are changed to support and transfer steps, spacious walker and wheelchair access are added to play bridges, swings have seat belts and safer seats, steps are replaced with ramps, and much more. Inclusive play areas also have a rich selection of sensory tools, such as sand, child-friendly water sprinklers/fountains, tactile objects, noisemakers, and bright-colored themes.
Getting an Inclusive Playground Close to Home
If you do not have a universally-designed playground in your community, there are a number of steps you can take to help your community create one:
- Speak with local chapters of disability organizations about sponsorship and funding, such as the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), Easter Seals, and United Way.
- Reach out to the parks and recreation department in your area and inquire if there’s a way for citizens to help raise funds for an inclusive playground.
- Get the local media interested, which can help spread awareness
- Talk to officials at your city’s town hall (be sure to be prepared to educate them as much as possible about the benefits of an inclusive playground).
- Speak with school officials, particularly if there are large numbers of children with special needs.
- Start a fundraiser (Note: Having funds will help you in your mission, but it often takes a lot of time and can be taxing. Getting non-profit support will make things a bit easier).
- About the Requirements for Recreation Facilities in the ADA and ABA Standards. (n.d.). Home - United States Access Board.
Retrieved from: https://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/recreation-facilities
- Universal design: Playgrounds | asla.org. (n.d.). American Society of Landscape Architects.
Retrieved from: https://www.asla.org/universalplaygrounds.aspx