The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that was passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all public areas, including playgrounds. This means that all public parks and playgrounds have to make sure they meet the ADA accessibility guidelines making their public space accessible to people with disabilities.
What does accessible mean, exactly? According to OxfordDictionaries.com, the term accessible means: “able to be reached or entered”. So the ADA requires that public areas are “able to be reached or entered” by persons with disabilities – but what about beyond that? If the elements of a playground are accessible, but unable to be used by someone with a disability, then what is the point?
That is where inclusive playgrounds come in to play. Inclusive does not just provide access to facilities, but makes those facilities usable by all people. They are developmentally appropriate for every single child, with or without any given ability. The elements of an inclusive playground are constructed to be comfortably used by kids of all different sizes, postures, sensory needs, motor control and mobility.
Physical play helps kids’ development with physical, social, sensory and motor skills – and when they can’t participate it affects their growth on the inside. Inclusive playgrounds are designed so that every child, regardless of their disabilities, has an equal ability to play independently and interact with their peers on an even playing field. This equal opportunity helps them keep up developmentally with their peers through challenging play opportunities.
Once you note the difference between accessible and inclusive, it isn’t hard to see that they are not one and the same, although they do go hand in hand. Complying with the minimum ADA requirements will not give you an inclusive playground. With all the inclusive options out there today there is no excuse to not build (or renovate) your playground to be all-inclusive. All children should have the opportunity to play and develop on the same level as their peers!