October 18, 2021

The Language of Inclusion - Key Terms for Inclusive Playgrounds

Children with physical disabilities have a 4.5x higher rate of physical inactivity. This means they are missing critical developmental milestones and socialization opportunities.

This group of children has a right to socialize and learn through play, just like every child. One of the ways to ensure every child has access to inclusive play is to understand what an inclusive play space is. Read on to learn some terminology to help you advocate for an inclusive playground in your community.


Accessible Vs. Inclusive

The most crucial distinction is between accessible and inclusive design. 

An accessible design provides ADA-compliant access points to an already conceptualized play experience. An example of this could be installing a ramp onto a play structure.

Inclusive design describes an approach to creating a complete play experience. The process should encourage children of all abilities to play together. An example of this could be designing a rocking activity with ramp access with spaces for mobility devices beside the seats.

The difference is that inclusive playgrounds consider disabilities during the design process. This allows children with disabilities to thrive while playing with other children.

The Four Types of Playgrounds

Playgrounds fit into four categories: exclusionary, segregated, integrated, and inclusive.

Exclusionary playgrounds are playgrounds that do not offer activities to those with disabilities. These play spaces may include any of the following:

  • Non-accessible surfacing
  • Non-ADA compliant play equipment
  • No ramps leading into the park
  • Low visibility safety information
  • No rest areas where children can retreat and recollect themselves

Segregated playgrounds are playgrounds that create two different play experiences. These play spaces may include any of the following:

  • Accessible play equipment is constructed in a separate area
  • Accessible play equipment is only designed for children with disabilities

These playgrounds neglect the importance of integrated socialization. 

Integrated playgrounds are playgrounds that meet all the qualifications for ADA compliance. These play spaces may include any of the following:

  • Accessible surfacing
  • Ramps into the park and play areas
  • Transfer systems for play structures
  • Play equipment that addresses a wide range of developmental needs (physical, cognitive, social-emotional, sensory, and communication)
  • High visibility safety information
  • Rest areas and comfy spots where children can retreat and collect themselves 

Inclusive playgrounds differentiate from integrated playgrounds by encouraging all children to play together. 

A great example of inclusive play activity is GameTime’s Rock N Raft. The rocker has six seats that are all accessed through an ADA compliant opening with room for mobility devices. It doesn’t have a separate option for children with disabilities. Instead, all children experience the same play activity together.

Inclusive Play Terminology

When designing an inclusive playground, it’s important to know the language of inclusion. The following list reflects some useful terminology:

  • Universal Design: Synonymous with inclusive design
  • Compliant Design: Synonymous with accessible design
  • Accessible Route: An unobstructed pathway that provides access to a play experience. This may include any of the following:
    • Platforms
    • Ramps
    • Elevators
    • Lifts
    • Accessible parking and access aisles
    • Curb ramps
    • Crosswalks for children crossing the street
    • Sidewalks
  • Use Zone: A compliance standard that describes the size requirements to allow unrestricted circulation.
  • Clear Floor Space: The ground space size required to accommodate a single wheelchair and occupant.
  • Ramp: A walkway with a running slope greater than 1:20. At least 50% of play components should have ramped access.
  • Transfer Station: A transfer point for those in mobility devices to access a play experience.

Play For All

Play is a universal right, and this holds true for children with disabilities as well. Through learning the difference between accessible and inclusive design, the four types of playgrounds, and familiarizing yourself with useful terminology; you can advocate for play for all.

Contact a GameTime inclusive play expert and start planning your dream inclusive playground today.