A Guide to Creating Inclusive Play Spaces

February 18, 2022

Children with disabilities often face significant barriers to accessing sport and play. As part of our commitment to inclusive play, Jumpstart has and continues to build universally inclusive playgrounds in communities across Canada. We are proud to have supported the Canadian Disability Participation Project in the development of this resource which will be useful for those who are looking to create an inclusive play space in their community.

You can download the full resource PDF, which includes citations, at the bottom of this page. ㅤ

Evidence-Informed Recommendations for Designing Inclusive Playgrounds to Enable Participation for Children with Disabilities

By: Canadian Disability Participation Project

Importance of Play

The United Nations recognizes play as a fundamental human right of all children, including children with disabilities. Despite play being a fundamental human right, children with disabilities lack equal access to play opportunities, in part due to inaccessible playground design. This is particularly concerning given that play is integral to children's emotional wellbeing and cognitive, physical, and social development. Playground play is largely unstructured, offering diverse play opportunities for children to advance their imagination, self-awareness, risk perception, identity, and their social and motor skills.

Playgrounds are crucial to children's experience of play. However, they represent a significant barrier to children with disabilities, as their design is often informed by normative understandings of children's bodies, mobilities, and abilities that do not account for the existence of childhood disability. Playground surfaces, elevated play structures, and play components themselves are often inaccessible to children with disabilities, resulting in feelings of isolation, exclusion from peer interaction, or exclusion from play spaces altogether.

Consideration of Playground Design

Within playground design research and practice, the unique needs, interests, and rights of children with disabilities are beginning to be recognized. This can be seen through the existence of accessibility standards, which, despite their limitations, represent a shift toward improving access to play opportunities for children with disabilities.

Past playground-related reviews have identified ways to improve a playground's physical design, focusing on the playground structure itself, but have not considered how a playground's social and surrounding built environments affect children with disabilities' access to play.

Evidence Informed Recommendations

1. Entry Points

1.1. Entrance to the playground space is wide and free of any obstacles

1.2. Wide, flat, and firm pathways from the entrance to the playground

1.3. Enclosing the playground to prevent children from straying

2. Surfacing and Paths

2.1. A flat uniform surface that consists of material that is moderately firm and stable

2.2. Ramps that provide access to and between elevated play components

3. Features to Foster Inclusive Play

3.1. Play equipment accessible to all children

3.2. Variety of play equipment that provides appropriate challenges for children of all ages and abilities

3.3. Different types of sensory play components that are spread out within the play space to reduce overstimulation

3.4. Solitary play components for escaping overstimulation

3.5. Play components shaped in recognizable designs that allow for creative and imaginative pursuits

3.6. Informational features to aid with spatial orientation, communication, and guidance on proper use of equipment

3.7. Shaded spaces to aid with temperature regulation

4. Staffing/Supervision

4.1. Trained staff present in the play space to support play for all children

5. Design Process

5.1. User involvement (families of children with disabilities and representative from disability organizations) in the design process

Researchers conducted a scoping review of existing literature on inclusive playground design. Consideration was given not only to the physical design of playgrounds, but also playgrounds’ surrounding built and social environments, allowing for a more comprehensive approach focused on ensuring children with disabilities and their families experience inclusion during playground visits.

The scoping review included 35 studies and analyzed each study’s key findings to identify playground recommendations for designing inclusive playgrounds to enable participation for children with disabilities. Researchers synthesized the key findings into 13 evidence-informed recommendations and one promising practice which were categorized into five broad playground elements: entry points; surfacing and paths; features to foster inclusive play; staffing/supervision; and design process.

These evidence-informed recommendations are not exclusive to the playground design itself; they also recognize the importance of ensuring easy access into playground spaces, how the presence of trained staff within playgrounds may improve accessibility and inclusion, and how involving children with disabilities and their families in playground design processes can help with producing playground that account for their needs, abilities, and desires.

The five playground elements highlight the importance of both the built and social environments in fostering accessible play, and include not only children with mobility impairments, but also children with sensory and developmental disabilities, who often lack sensory play spaces within playgrounds. Widely accessible playground entry and equipment also fosters interaction between children with and without disabilities. Moreover, the recommendations benefit all children of a wide range of developmental stages and abilities while also supporting caregivers with a disability, facilitating their ability to supervise and participate in their child's play environment.

In Summary

Overall, 13 evidence-informed recommendations and one promising practice for designing inclusive playgrounds for children with disabilities emerged from the researchers' scoping review of 35 peerreviewed studies. These recommendations highlight the importance of both the playground itself and the surrounding social and built environments in fostering an accessible play space. We recommend playground designers and municipalities consider these evidence-informed recommendations to create play spaces that are welcoming and inclusive for people of all ages and abilities. Communities should strive for playgrounds, a common childhood environment, to be fully accessible and inclusive thus upholding play as a fundamental human right of all children – play is a right, not a privilege.

This resource was produced by the Canadian Disability Participation Project with the support of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities and is reproduced with permission. Sources are available in the 'Full Resource' PDF.

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