Child development experts agree that unstructured play is critical to the development of all children. In playspaces incorporating Universal Design (UD), children of all abilities play together, independently. The goal of a universally designed play environment is to provide all children with sensory-rich and engaging play opportunities in a barrier-free environment.
In UD playspaces, children can use their typical means of mobility to access a minimum of 70% of the play activities. Floor-level play goes beyond the basics of the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and elevated play areas include a ramp or lift to provide access for all. Other considerations may include a playful color palette that is not over-stimulating, the use of natural light, and a sensory room that provides a quiet space for children who might get overwhelmed during play.
When designing your playspace remember that children need a variety of types of play to develop the wide range of skills they will need to be successful in the world. These include big muscle play, manipulative play, pretend play, creative arts play, sensory play, and quiet play. Often outdoor playspaces provide only opportunities for big muscle play and some sensory play, but it is important to make sure that these other types of play also flourish in outdoor environments.
Let's Play! Projects. (1998-2004). Universal design. University at Buffalo Center for Assistive Technology. http://letsplay.buffalo.edu/UD/index.htm
Malkusak, T., Schappet, J., & Bruya, L. (2002). Turning accessible playgrounds into fully integrated playgrounds: Just add a little essence. Parks & Recreation. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1145/is_4_37/ai_85882886
National Center on Accessibility. (2006). Access to Play Areas. http://www.indiana.edu/~nca/playgrounds/play-areas.shtml
Stoecklin, V.L. (1999). Designing for all children. White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. http://www.whitehutchinson.com/children/articles/designforall.shtml
UK Department for Communities and Local Government. (2003). Developing Accessible Play Space: A Good Practice Guide. http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/developingaccessibleplay2
(Photo courtesy of Grounds for Play)