by Barbara Champion, IPA Australia Representative

Accessibility is often raised as a desirable outcome when planning and designing play spaces, but “what is an accessible play space?”

There are many components to this question. Accessibility is a desirable outcome for all play spaces, but its implementation is a challenge to the industry while there is a poor understanding of it. Is it just physical access, or are there more levels on which access is important? There are many recent play spaces that have been designed to provide physical accessibility, but these provide only one aspect of the provision of play experiences for children.

PRAV (the Playgrounds & Recreation Association of Victoria) has developed “The Good Play Space Guide : I can play too”. (See link) to assist designers and managers of public open space to enhance outdoor play opportunities for all children.

The guide aims to:

  • outline the benefits of play for all children, and discuss the general characteristics of quality play spaces;
  • investigate the subject of participation in play for people with a disability, in public play spaces;
  • demonstrate what makes a play space accessible, and what improvements might be achievable; and
  • provide guidance on how to develop accessible public play spaces.

The guide argues the right for every child to participate in play; the value of play, and the benefits to all children; key points that are missing / gaps in what is currently provided; opportunities to increase participation in play for all children; an understanding of disability issues, and how to translate this knowledge into play opportunities; what the limitations might be for some children, and proposes design solutions; the importance of the planning process and the client /designer/supplier relationship; key issues in the development of tenders; and, the voices of children in the planning processes, and genuine observation of children at play.

We understand the importance of play in the overall development and health of young children, and therefore for IPA members to plan for quality outdoor play experiences which will enhance development of all children. The reliance on play spaces obligates the play industry to provide play spaces that are accessible, fun and facilitate development and socialisation.

It should be noted that this article has been prepared with a developed world focus, and we acknowledge that certain references will not be applicable to some developing countries.

Some questions for the managers of playspaces when considering design issues

  • Is the play area designed so that wheeled items can get around it?

    Ramps, bridges and hard surface paths may be needed to ensure full access to all parts of the playground. In designing paths, curves should be gradual and right angles should be avoided. The same system will serve for persons wheeling prams or children riding bicycles. The technical problems found in manipulating wheelchairs on gravel paths, similarly to those experienced by parents wheeling prams, should be considered in the design of paths;
  • Are the facilities accessible to a disabled user? Layout of playspaces should maximize the ability of children and parents to move around it easily, with multiple access routes around and within the playspace; Because of the effort and planning involved in getting a family with disabled members to a playground it often becomes a longer period stay and so the following facilities are of importance picnic tables, barbecues, drinking fountains;
  • Is the overall design of the playground appropriate for a family of children of a variety of ages, including a child/children with disabilities? Provision of clear and consistent pathways with clearly defined edges are needed for everyone;
  • Is the actual play environment safe for a disabled child?Clear zones are needed within the playspace with positive links between activities;
  • Has the need for fencing been considered?The need for some space restriction is often required by children with disabilities. While not suggesting that all playgrounds should be fenced, consideration should be given to the need for some selected fencing, using an aesthetically satisfactory closing off with wood and/or trees and shrubs.
  • Do the design features encourage quality play for children with disabilities?Sensory richness is needed for places for children to retreat from activity, as well as the need for rest spots;
  • Does the playground maximise opportunities for social inclusion for all children?The placing of fixed equipment is important for all children, but even more so for a child who may not see, hear or perceive inherent danger in closeness to moving equipment;
  • Is there a duplication of activities in the playground to enable children with different abilities to enjoy similar experiences?
  • Does the play equipment enable shared play experiences?Sand play is an excellent activity to provide play for diverse ages and abilities, as is a hammock;
  • Does the setting in the playspace allow for a parent with disabilities to participate, and converse with others, and to see and be involved with their children at play?
  • Does the play equipment enable parents to assist children to use the equipment such as placing a child on a slide, getting to the run out in time to collect child?Play equipment items such as easy to climb steps and handgrips to assist climbing are supported;
  • How many of us can get out of some of those aesthetically pleasing curved park benches without using our arms and legs?The elderly also would appreciate some seating with arms;
  • Is there shelter and protection from sun and rain for the children at play and their adult companions? A sand tray under trees?
  • Is any signage both tactile and visual and placed on the ground and higher for hands to reach?
  • Does the ground surface maximize the use of the playspace of children with disabilities. e.g. physical disabled, sigh impaired and/or poor balance;
  • Is there use of colour contrast and textures to provide consistent spatial information, particularly for the sight impaired;
  • Do any gradients used have a maximum of 1:20 to maximize access?
  • Is there a complexity and diversity of skill level of play activities to provide play for multi ages, and abilities, e.g. activity at low levels and under decks to cater for young, wheel chaired and feet and leg active children.


  • Where are the accessible playspaces?Most government authorities now provide attractive booklets giving locations of parks and playgrounds and may even include details of barbecue locations. However, very few indicate whether the area is accessible to the physically disabled by the provision of special car parking facilities and accessible toilets. The use of signs to indicate accessibility is important.
  • Is special car parking for disabled persons available adjacent to the playspace?
  • Are the car parking spaces designed to allow the disabled to manoeuvre adjacent to the car for ease of egress and ingress?
  • Are the spaces located at the end of a parking bay or parallel to a kerb wide enough or clear on one side to enable people with disabilities to get in or out of the vehicle?
  • Is there at least one entrance to the facility that is usable by the disabled from the car parking spaces?
  • Is there level access between each car parking space for people with disabilities and adjoining walkways?
  • If there is a level change from the parking space to the adjoining walkway is there a ramp provided?
  • Are the car parking spaces paved with a level, non slip surface with minimum texture?
  • Are the reserved car parking spaces identified with signs “For Use by Disabled Only” and
    accompanied by a symbol of access?
  • Are toilets placed in an accessible position and are they planned for use by people with disabilities?
  • Are the public toilets accommodating chairbound disabled people on level sites or have ramped access, and are they identified by special signs?
  • Are suitable paths and ramps provided to allow everyone to enter the playground from several parts of the park or adjoining areas?
  • Do the paths actually reach the beginning of the undersurfacing of the playspace?
  • Children and adults are, first and foremost, children and adults. They desire and need opportunities to engage in play. With today’s emphasis on mainstreaming and getting the most cost-effective outcome, separate playspaces for people with disabilities generally are not only unnecessary, but also not financially responsible.