Practical guidelines for building inclusive playgrounds

Basic accessibility is the most important rule of all for inclusive playgrounds. The whole park and much of the equipment must be physically accessible to all children and adults. Make sure that everyone can enter and explore the park freely and that the car park and surrounding streets are also accessible to persons with reduced mobility. Remember that accessibility for playgrounds is not only about children, but also about their supervisors, grandparents or other visitors.


  • Replace curbs, edges and steps with ramps. A ramp should be between 1:12 and 1:16 (1 cm up for every 12 to 16 cm of progress), wide enough for two people to pass (at least 1.5 m wide) and have handrails on both sides. The height of the handrail grasping surface should be between 0.5 m and 0.7 m from the ground up.
  • Avoid complicated gates or turnstiles. When you need to fence off a site, use kissing gates or other wheelchair friendly systems.

Surfacing & moving around

  • Make sure the surface of the playground is accessible all the way around. Even equipment that is not fully accessible should at least be reachable for wheelchair users, so they can be involved or take part in the games. At least one of every type of play component in the playground should be fully accessible.
  • Grass, sand or loose particles such as wood chips are not wheelchair accessible. If you use sand pits or grass surfaces, combine them with more stable secondary paths made from rubber or cork-based materials. Wheelchair accessible surfaces are especially important to reach elements designed for wheelchair users, such as a wheelchair carousel or a special needs swing. Don’t put a wheelchair-friendly product in a wheelchair-unfriendly environment.

Equipment & transfer

  • Make sure that large and central elements are at least partially accessible to children with reduced mobility. Provide wheelchair accessible paths around or through the challenging installations. Give every child the opportunity to enter towers in some way and provide challenging activities.
  • If the highest top of a tower can’t be reached by everyone, provide ways to interact between the different levels. Think of a talking tube, a sand lift or an innovative electronic game for several players.
  • Play structures can be made accessible by means of long ramps with a slope between 1:12 and 1:16. The slope of a track connecting play components should not exceed 3 m before reaching a horizontal resting surface.
  • Many children with reduced mobility are able to get out of their wheelchairs and crawl or step around on their own. Play towers can be made accessible by using a gradually rising crawl surface or a series of horizontal transfer platforms. Transfer steps should have a minimum depth of 350 mm and a minimum width of 600 mm. Each transfer step should have a maximum height of 200 mm and include a handrail. Handrails should be provided at the entrance to the transfer steps to assist children to transfer from the wheelchair to the platform. The entrance should be between 280 and 450 mm high.

Equipment space & size

  • Playground equipment can appeal to children (and even adults) of any age. Some older and taller children like to use simple equipment (such as seesaws or swings) that is usually built for younger users. Take into account the difference in body size and weight of users with different skills or abilities.
  • Make sure the equipment is accessible by adults, to assist children who need support or to interfere when something goes wrong. Most platforms or passageways should be spacious enough for two people to pass, so that a child with a disability can be helped by someone if necessary.
  • If you include a sandpit or water play equipment, consider lifting parts of the play surface to wheelchair user height or making the play equipment wheelchair accessible. Play tables should be at least 60 cm high, 75 cm wide and 45 cm deep.
  • Vertical play panels should be positioned at the right height to accommodate the intended target group. Children in wheelchairs cannot easily reach forwards and to the ground. However, it is more fun for them to play with two hands facing forwards than to be able to reach with just one hand to the side, because the wheelchair cannot move under a panel. When sitting in a wheelchair, children aged 3 to 4 can reach an average height of between 50 cm and 90 cm, while children aged 9 to 12 can reach between 40 cm and 110 cm high.


  • When a playground is made of wood, steel, grey or dark coloured materials, it can negatively affect the ease of use of children with visual impairments. Mark exits, entrances and handles with contrasting colour strips. This can be a natural colour such as yellow or bright green on a dark background or the blue of road signs on a grey or wooden background.
  • Provide tactile input (ridges, studs, embossed strips on and around equipment, a 3D plan showing the layout of the park) for the blind or visually impaired.
  • Playgrounds that are made up of open steel structures or wooden frames with climbing nets can be difficult to visualise for children with cognitive or visual disabilities. Try to make playgrounds visually comprehensible by providing depth in the three-dimensional space. Closed volumes give depth and create visual structure. This can be done by using vertical surfaces in structures, creating hills on the terrain or adding elements such as walls, boulders, trees or bushes between zones.

About the authors:

Filip Gerits and Yves De Keuster are designers and researchers specialised in design and safety of activity toys and play infrastructure. For this topic we were happy to count on the indispensable support of a range of experts, children and parents with experience in the field of inclusive play. We especially like to thank Kathleen Op De Beeck - specialised in occupational therapy and inclusive education at AP – university college in Antwerp, Belgium – for her input and enthusiasm.

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