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*:
- Incorporate frequent platforms for resting.
- There must be a landing at the end of every ramp.
- Landings must be as wide as the ramp.
- Landings must be at least 5 feet long.
- Landings must be 5 feet wide if ramps connect and change direction.
- Lower rises are easier for people using wheelchairs to access
- The maximum rise is 1 inch rise of ramp:12 inch length of ramp (Universal Design expands this standard to 1:20)
- The ramp must be at least 3 feet wide but no longer than 12 feet.
- Ideally, there will be room for other children to pass alongside a wheelchair or even two wheelchair users to pass one another.
- Install handrails and raised edges.
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:
- Minimum 24 inches wide and 14 inches deep
- 11 to 18 inches to height of top surface
- Unobstructed sides
- Adding a transfer step to the ground increases access
- Parking space for wheelchairs is required next to platform
- 24 inches wide
- 14 inches deep
- 8 inches maximum height
- Handrails, handgrips, or handholds
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.
- Can cover the entire surface of your play area (rubber pour-in-place)
- Pathways should be at least 60 inches wide
- Pathways should have a maximum slope of 1:16
- Provide a border between loose-fill material and accessible routes
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.
- Connect elevated structures throughout your play area
- Must connect at least 50% of elevated structures
- Ramps and transfer systems are most common methods