Playgrounds: universal design not enough

A girl sits on the ground in a playspace. She is smiling at the camera. Universal design is not enough for inclusion.
Image from “Everyone Can Play” guide.

Children with disability are often excluded from playing at playgrounds due to design limitations. Of course, one solution includes building playgrounds using a universal design approach. However, playgrounds with universal design features are not enough to make an inclusive space. 

Universally designed playspaces bring play into the lives of families with disabilities. They also provide opportunities to champion disability advocacy, and support disabled children in developing critical social skills. However, additional work and resources are needed to achieve full social inclusivity.

Distance shot of children on a carousel or spinner
Image: Livvi’s Place Carousel

Findings from a Canadian study can help guide designs of future playgrounds and other community spaces to improve inclusivity for everyone. 

This paper begins with the playground experience and universal design and then applies this to other public spaces. 

The title of the article is, Understanding the experiences of parents of disabled and non-disabled children at playgrounds designed for disability inclusion. There is no free access to this publication in Disability and Society. However, you can request full access from ResearchGate

From the abstract

Disabled children and their families are often excluded from community play opportunities, including playgrounds. One potential solution is, of course, to design inclusive playgrounds.

This study explores the experiences of parents of disabled and non-disabled children at playgrounds inspired by Principles of Universal Design. Participants were 29 parents (16 with disabled children). They were located across four Canadian cities with newly built inclusively designed playgrounds.

Three themes were identified which provide deeper understandings of ableism in community playspaces and the impact on children and their families. 1. Inclusive playgrounds also act as a platform for disability advocacy. 2. They provide opportunities for social and emotional development. 3. Inclusive play may influence family dynamics.

Findings highlight the value of universal design, but indicate that physical environments alone do not ensure social inclusion, as social barriers can continue to exist even in spaces purposefully designed for disability inclusion.

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