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Making Playgrounds Accessible
Re-printed with permission from the A.T. Journal, sponsored by the California Assistive Technology Network
Too often accessible elements are left out of the design when it comes to parks and playgrounds. Many playgrounds are covered in bark chips, making it impossible to navigate in a wheelchair. Most playgrounds require climbing on steps and ladders, and slides are often too low and narrow. Many playgrounds require traveling on grass or other natural terrain just to get to them, calling the accessibility of the playground itself into question.
There are a few contractors and playground designers working on accessibility issues. They are few and far between but many work in a large area. Installations have been done to improve many of the issues mentioned in this article. For instance, ground can be covered in a rubberized mat, which minimizes injury from falls and makes the playground accessible to wheelchairs. Ramps are installed alongside ladders, and pathways are widened. Gates leading into fenced playgrounds are widened, and the springs used to automatically close the gate are relieved of unnecessary tension, making them easier to open for people with limited strength and dexterity.
The question comes down to who is responsible to make a playground accessible. This can be an expensive undertaking, especially when the playground already exists and was built without these options in mind. If the park is a public park, meaning it is not owned by a private interest such as a home owner's association, there is a compelling argument under the ADA to hold the parks commission responsible for guaranteeing access to this public structure.
If it is privately owned there may be some work convincing the owner or association that this is their responsibility. The ADA allows for this because it's open to the public, but the phrase "reasonable accommodation" is open to interpretation, and has come under fire lately where individuals and businesses do not want to pay for accessible remodels.
Playgrounds for Everyone
The Original Playground Directory
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Getting Playground Renovation on the Table
-Grass Roots Advocacy-
When it comes to getting your local playground renovated for use by all children, including children using wheelchairs, the first thing to establish is who built the playground. If the playground is a public facility, the respective organization that built it has some obligation to comply with the ADA.
Find out if you should be talking to a private facility, school district, community center, parks department, a government office (local, regional, or federal), or neighborhood improvement association. Your alderperson or counsel person should be able to find this out for you. Talk to your community group. Talk to the alderman in your area and call or write your congressperson. Make sure your voice is heard, and then keep talking. Get others involved. Solicit support from your friends and neighbors—even your child's teachers. Your local Center for Independent Living or other disability-based organization can offer guidance.
Look, ask, and don't get discouraged if you get nowhere at first; you'll learn a lot from your research. Just remember that your son or daughter needs and deserves access to outdoor recreation with other kids. You'll be surprised how much support you'll get. If it's appropriate, you or someone on your team can ask your local businesses to underwrite part or all of the cost. All you have to do is start.