Imagine children’s feet climb up and downplay structures, kicking back and forth from swings, and running around a playground in a spirited game of tag. When considering a play area, these images typically come to mind, but what about children with disabilities? In recent years, the park and recreation industry has experienced a shift in the design of play areas toward inclusive play for children of all ages and abilities.

Still, children with disabilities face many physical and social barriers on playgrounds. These barriers might include narrow entry points, uneven surfaces, and equipment out of reach or unusable, due to mobility constraints. Physical barriers hinder children with special needs from participating in play, thereby creating social barriers for them as well.

Designing an all-inclusive playground includes incorporating all playground components, not just equipment. The surfacing, shade structures, picnic tables, and layout also include areas that can be tailored to meet the needs of those with disabilities. According to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas, designers should consider the layout of ground-level play components to cultivate an environment for the interaction and socialization between all children.

Rachel McAuley, the mother of Mary Elizabeth McAuley, experienced the inequality in traditional playground design to accommodate children with disabilities firsthand. Mary lived with cerebral palsy and was bound to a wheelchair. In 2015, upon Mary’s death at the age of 14, McAuley realized that, due to the inability of her daughter’s wheelchair to pass through loose-fill substances, Mary never experienced the joy of playing on a playground.

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