Accessibility is all about making things usable for as many people as possible. In a playground setting, it’s ensuring that all children can have a fun and enjoyable time, regardless of whether they have a disability or not.
It’s estimated that about 1.2 million people in the UK use a wheelchair, which is about 1.7% of the population. Wheelchair users experience a lot of issues that non-disabled people may not think twice about, from going to the bathroom and getting out of a car, to going up a flight of steps.
A playground is a thrilling and exciting to be for most little ones. However, for children that use wheelchairs, either permanently or temporarily, it may not be as fun.
Wheelchair users may not be able to manoeuvre themselves around, there may be no equipment at all they can use, or conversely, equipment that is too dull and boring. In some playgrounds, all they can do is watch their friends and siblings play while they sit on the sidelines.
According to a study by Scope, over half of families with disabled children have experienced accessibility issues at a playground, with one in ten parents saying their children have been hurt trying to use inaccessible equipment.
At Landscapes for Learning, we believe every child has the right to play safely, learn through play, and have fun with their friends. With this in mind, we’ve put together some valuable guidance to help you build a wheelchair-accessible playground, or assess your existing one for accessibility.
If you’d like any additional information about playgrounds and accessibility, whether for a school, council site, or private play area, please get in touch. We’d be happy to answer your questions.
- Design for accessibility
- Consider the right flooring
- Choose wheelchair-friendly equipment
- Don’t forget parents and carers
- Think about other disabilities too
Design for accessibility
A wheelchair-accessible playground isn’t just about the play equipment – you need to consider the accessibility of the whole area.
Here are some of the things you need to think about:
- Paths should be a minimum of 1.2m wide, with passing space (1.8m wide) on longer paths
- Slopes should not exceed 1:15 – the smaller the ratio, the better
- Ensure there are transitions to all areas of the play space with no raised edges (for example, from the ground to a piece of play equipment)
- Rails on equipment can help wheelchair users propel themselves along without the need for assistance
- Gates should be easy to open and self-closing
- Plenty of seating should be made available
Also, think about nearby amenities. Are there disabled toilets and accessible cafes and restaurants nearby? Disabled access car parking is also important – it should be as close as possible, with easy access from the car to the playground.
Access to accessible parking and other amenities will keep visitors happy and ensure they keep coming back to your playground time and time again,
Carry out a risk assessment before you begin building or making changes to your playground. This will help you see what is already accessible, and what needs improving.
Consider the right flooring
It’s important that your playground floor is smooth enough for wheelchair users to get around quickly, but is cushioned and slip resistant, especially in wet and snowy weather.
A solid rubber surface (also known as wet pour) offers the best of both worlds, plus it can be customised with any designs, shapes, and patterns you like. Alternative accessible options include bonded rubber mulch and artificial grass.
Loose fill materials like bark and wood chip can be used, but sparingly, as wheelchair users can’t travel on them for long distances. Sand and gravel aren’t accessible and should be avoided.
Choose wheelchair-friendly equipment
Every piece of equipment in your playground doesn’t have to be wheelchair accessible. However, it’s essential to have enough accessible play equipment so wheelchair users can have fun with their friends, not feel bored, and, most importantly, not be excluded.
Wheelchair-friendly play equipment needs to be easy to access, with enough room for wheelchair users to manoeuvre their way around. In addition, any activity stations need to be low enough for them to use comfortably.
Consider installing more than one piece of equipment at different heights. For example, if you have two steering wheels, set one up so it is lower than the other. This means disabled and non-disabled children can play together easily.
It’s important to appreciate that no two wheelchair users are alike. While some children cannot leave their wheelchairs, some children can leave their wheelchairs to get onto play equipment. For example, a child can move their wheelchair close to a swing, climb into it, and then get back into their wheelchair.
Making the transfer process as easy and safe as possible (for example, adding handrails, transfer platforms, or transfer steps) can make play equipment more inclusive and make wheelchair users feel more independent.
Here are some examples of wheelchair-friendly equipment we have available at Landscapes for Learning. If there is anything specific you would like, or if you would like to see if any other play equipment can be altered for wheelchairs, please get in touch!
Mini troll bridge
This hard-wearing and chunky bridge makes it easy for little ones to get from one place to another. We can alter the width at no extra charge, meaning it can easily accommodate wheelchairs.
Wheelchair-accessible mud kitchen
We’re all about mud kitchens at Landscapes for Learning – they’re one of the first pieces of play equipment we ever made! This accessible mud kitchen means wheelchair users can make mud pies alongside their friends.
Private spaces are essential in a playground – they’re great for letting introverted children recharge their social batteries, and for kids to hide away, share stories, and chat amongst themselves.
We were asked to build a wheelchair-accessible teepee by one of our clients. This beautiful, long-lasting teepee is spacious enough for several friends to hang out and shelter from the elements.
A sandpit is an essential addition to any playground or outdoor space. This accessible sandpit means wheelchair users can build sandcastles and dig holes to their heart’s content.
Plus, it comes with a nifty chalkboard lid, giving this sandpit additional functionality and a chance for everyone in the playground to show off their artistic skills!
Wheelchair-accessible planters and school allotments
If you’re working in a school, gardening is a fantastic way for little ones to learn about the environment and where their food comes from.
Don’t forget parents and carers
It’s important to remember that your playground shouldn’t just be accessible for children in wheelchairs, but also for disabled parents, grandparents, guardians, and carers.
For example, if you have benches and tables for adults to have a chat over a cup of coffee, make sure there is space for wheelchair users to pull up and join the conversation. Our wheelchair-accessible picnic table is great for adults, and there is also a smaller picnic table for little ones too.
Designing with wheelchair accessibility in mind can also help parents with prams and buggies navigate their way around your playground.
Think about other disabilities too
Wheelchair users account for nearly 2% of the UK population, but almost 18% of the UK population are disabled.
You need to consider other disabilities when developing a playground. For example, tactile elements are great for children who are blind or visually impaired.
Sensory play equipment, like sandpits, water tables, and music stations, is wonderful for children with autism and other special educational needs.
While it’s impossible to design a playground that is 100% accessible to everyone, it is possible to create a playground that everyone can use and enjoy.
Landscapes for Learning: dedicated to making playgrounds accessible
Outdoor play has so many benefits for children. It keeps them healthy, lets them blow off steam, and allows them to develop the valuable social skills they need to thrive in the modern world.
A wheelchair-accessible playground means all children can play with their friends and not feel excluded.
We specialise in designing, developing, and building high-quality play equipment that encourages all children to learn and explore. Accessible equipment doesn’t have to be expensive, and we provide a wide range of hard-wearing equipment at a cost-effective price point
Check out our wide range of products today and see how our equipment is the perfect addition to your brand-new wheelchair-accessible playground.