The characteristics of accessible and inclusive play equipment

A very high priority in the design procedure should be that of seeking to anticipate and fully conform to the requirements of The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, fully implemented in October 2004. Unrestricted physical access is essential. In all areas of risk – which may arise from moving parts, swings, environmental hazards, unexpected obstacles, chain walks, ‘stepping stones’, dizzy discs or wheeled activities, skate boards, bikes and roller blades, pools and standing water, steep drops or steps – surface texture changes such as a broad gravel surrounding area or other tactile indicators should be in place to give warnings or reminders of risk to those with disabilities.

Detailed and specific advice on this topic can be found in Hicks.20 This work enables robust and reliable judgements to be made on sites and specific facilities or services at play locations within them. It addresses the need to describe and quantify accessibility and inclusivity in relation to the whole available range of play equipment and apparatus in a way that is objective and systematic in approach. To this end there follows an initial approach to access evaluation that subsumes, but is not confined to, that limited range of ‘special needs’ equipment that is perhaps mainly appropriate to supervised institutional use. The importance of this emphasis on standard equipment being evaluated in relation to its degree of accessibility by all cannot be overstated. For inclusivity to be accepted as a worthwhile and achievable objective in play situations, the degree to which we make, or fail to make specific provision for those with impairments will tend to condition attitudes across the whole range of service users.

If this or some similar system is adopted, then play providers can be objectively advised or observe for themselves the degree to which specific items of equipment meet access and inclusivity priorities. This would influence
purchasing decisions likely to discreetly assist and enable all, while disadvantaging none.

This proposed hierarchy of accessible and inclusive play equipment characteristics can readily be adopted and applied within the extensive public involvement in proposals to allocate funds. The required outputs and outcomes determined locally can readily inform the design, purchase and installation of new play equipment and apparatus.

5 play item short descriptors [8]

The outcomes in this case can be simply expressed in percentage terms, with 25 per cent accessibility being given cumulatively from categories 1 to 4 with, for example, an item capable of meeting the terms of the category 4 descriptors being ‘accessible’. Items meeting none of these are ‘inaccessible’ but others might possibly be 25, 50 or 75 per cent accessible. An item meeting the requirements of section 5 is described as being both accessible and an ‘inclusive’ play item. In those cases where there are no elevated items then ‘accessible’ status can be attached at descriptor 2 level and with this qualification the presence of dual and multiple use items also gives an ‘inclusive play item’ status in such cases.

Here are a few examples to follow up these descriptions:

1 Many swings and unitary climbers rate ‘user- friendly’ status, but high level stilt slides, climbing walls and overhead bars do not.

2 Numbers of toddler multi-play units rate

descriptor 2 status (50 per cent accessible) and some also rate as inclusive play items with the inspector’s discretion to rate the item 100 per cent accessible in those cases where elevated sections are of little significance.

3 Most medium-sized multi-play units with five or

more play elements do, or by thoughtful or advised specification at the contract stage

could, meet descriptor 3 level status (75 per cent accessible).

4 Without specific planning, specification and

appropriate access route provision few

medium- or large-sized multi-play unit

elements would fall into the 100 per cent accessible category. In these cases we are probably looking mainly at the products of companies with a substantial US market or presence and so a degree of commitment to and experience of built-in access systems, the provision of status targeted activities and the related provision of ground as well as elevated access routes supplemented by appropriate surface treatment.

5 Very much as 4 above but with the ambiguities of ‘inclusivity’ evident. So a large multi-play unit could have a whole hierarchy of low-level play as well as physically testing activities, ground accessed overhead bars and rings for example, ramps, rails, rubber surfaces and built-in mobil­ity aids as well as space to store a wheelchair or other mobility aids. But pairs of low-level speaking tubes, play activity frames and some see-saws would meet the same specification. A standard wooden play house would too.

Wicksteed Leisure in one of the first and best of a spate of recent guides to the DDA state that:

‘The aspiration of those providing play facilities must be to create challenges for all and barriers for none. Where totally shared experience is not always possible, then at least opportunities can be created for similar and, if possible, qualitatively equal experience for all children.’21

It is difficult to quarrel with this view.