More than Accessible: Creating Truly Inclusive School Playgrounds

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Young girl in a wheelchair playing on an inclusive spinner with other children.

When it comes to school playgrounds, which during recess serve as vital components of students’ social, emotional, and physical development, we know that adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is fundamental. Following those rules ensures that playgrounds are accessible.

We also know there’s a lot more that can be done to offer playgrounds that are truly inclusive. So, what’s the difference?

ACCESSIBLE: Able to be reached or entered by people who have a disability

If you have a playground that’s accessed by the public, including a public school, the law dictates it must be accessible to people with differing abilities. That means creating an accessible path from the building or parking lot to the edge of the play area, and an accessible path from that spot to the equipment.

The U.S. Department of Justice also put new standards into effect (as of 2012):

  • Ramps to higher levels must use accessible routes
  • Slides must have an available path to the stairs

INCLUSIVE: Aiming to provide equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or mental disabilities or belonging to other minority groups

If you’re looking to design an inclusive playground at your school, consider working with an organization that truly understands what it takes to make a playground work for all students, regardless of ability, allowing them to make the most of recess every single day. While many playgrounds include at least one piece of adapted equipment, this does not make them inclusive play spaces. School playgrounds that have some accessible pieces of equipment but that aren’t truly inclusive run the risk of making students with disabilities feel even more excluded because they are only able to access small areas of the play space while their peers move freely around the entire playground.

One key component of an inclusive playground is surfacing, as it can influence the accessibility and safety of the play area for all children. Surfacing falls into two main classifications — unitary and loose. Unitary surfacing is more suitable for inclusive play spaces, as it helps people with wheelchairs pass each other, turn, and get to the activities more seamlessly.

For inclusive playground surfacing to be accessible, safe, and compliant, the following criteria must be met when serving ground-level play events:

  • The vertical clearance must be at least 80”
  • The running slope must be a maximum of 1:16 or 6.25%
  • The cross slope must be a maximum of 1:48 or 2.08%
  • Spheres with more than 0.5” diameter must not be able to pass through any surfacing openings
  • Slopes that change from 0.25” to 0.5” in height must not be steeper than 1:2

No Fault’s inclusive playground surfacing allows all children to fully experience and utilize outdoor play spaces. Installing accessible surfacing at your school playground can enable greater exploration and interaction, allowing students to enjoy the equipment and engage with their peers.

It’s proven that inclusive school playgrounds can help reduce the risk of bullying and even stop it before it begins. Allowing children to explore during recess on a playground allows them to find common ground and potentially get to know each other. This can promote understanding, empathy, and friendships among groups of students with differing abilities.

The allocation of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER)
funding also provides a timely opportunity for schools across America to focus on inclusivity.
ESSER funds can be used to enhance play spaces – including surfacing – ensuring they are not only fun but also safe and inclusive. ESSER III funds must be committed by Sept. 30, 2024, and district leaders have flexibility when it comes to how best to use the funds to meet the needs of their school communities.

School administrators across the country turn to No Fault Surfaces for their playground surfacing needs. Contact No Fault today, to see how we can help you.

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