Ramps, transfer systems, and stairs all provide access to elevated play structures. The best design choices will depend on different children's needs and preferences. The number of play structures you have at your playground will also determine whether you choose ramps or transfer systems. The ADA guidelines specify that play areas with twenty or more elevated structures specifically provide ramp access to at least 25% of them. Playspaces applying Universal Design principles will strive to make a minimum of 70% of these elevated structures fully accessible.
Given the significant variety in children's abilities and preferences, providing several ways to access elevated structures (e.g. stairs and ramps, or a transfer station and ramp) is essential. Ramps are more universally accessible than either stairs or transfer stations for people of all abilities.
For ramps, keep the following recommendations in mind*:
A transfer system is a transfer platform, transfer steps, and supports. Transfer systems help people access elevated play structures without the use of a wheelchair or mobility device. They can be innovative, continuous systems of access throughout a play area. In general, however, ramps are more universally accessible than transfer systems. Transfer systems can also be used with ramps. Often a ramp will end at a transfer station so that a child can park their wheelchair and transfer onto the platform to access a slide.
In play areas with fewer than 20 elevated structures, at least 50% can be accessed by transfer systems. When a playground has 20 or more elevated structures, 25% of them can be accessed by transfer systems (the rest must be ramps). When using transfer steps, make sure that they have a minimal rise and extra depth so children can use them efficiently without getting too tired. Handrails, grips or holds are extremely helpful in providing additional supports for children who leave their mobility device behind to play on this part of the playspace.
When planning transfer systems, keep the following in mind:
The more routes your playspace has to get from one feature to the other, the more opportunities it will provide children to expand their big muscle and problem solving skills. One route should always be an accessible route, specifically designed to let people with disabilities access the different structures within your playspace. These can be along the ground or between elevated structures.
The new ADA guidelines for play areas specify that at least one of each type of ground-level component must be on an accessible route. Either your entire surface can be accessible or you can provide access between each component with an accessible route. Be sure to include some textural variety in your playspace routes. These enhance the play experiences for all children.
Ground surfaces must comply with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) F 1951-99 Standard Specification for Determination of Accessibility to Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment.