The more a society ensures this right for all, the healthier it, and its people, are. The citizens of the United States are to be congratulated for taking the lead to enhance access to play areas.
Typical of most visionary movements, the results have been a mixed blessing. As with all governmental regulations, the standard is an exercise in compromise and is basically designed to provide the most access at the least cost.
Here are some examples. Firm and stable paths of travel for wheelchairs are ideal, but when inside the fall zone of play equipment, they have to be resilient; they are expensive and a less expensive alternative, engineered wood fiber EWF is allowed to meet this need.
Transfer stations, which many players find very difficult to use, are deemed sufficient to provide access to elevated play activities on small structures.
Large structures are required to have ramps that double the cost of a play structure, are visually unappealing, and have no play value. In the early days of the standards these structures where fitted with long ramps and were not well received.
Nowadays the more typical design is to use earth forms and bridges to provide elevated access, a far more attractive and functional solution. The great thing about the deckless concept is that all of the activity is accessible from the ground. What we have found is that it is necessary to create fairly elaborate and unique environments in order to attract the whole community.
If we were to take an inventory of playspaces nationwide, what we would see is that there are a few extraordinary playspaces that really do allow all children regardless of abilities to be playing together.
But we also see that the vast majority of playgrounds, while they meet the letter of the law, they do not meet the inclusion needs of children where they spend most of their time, at their small local park. For too long the parks and recreation community has felt that simply adding some play apparatus into a field of mowed lawn will meet the needs of the community.
Those days are over.
Playgrounds are losing their customers and we need to do more. The trend that is emerging these days is that large playspaces are relying less and less on a single equipment provider or even commercial apparatus at all. I recently visited the site and had a chance to talk with the creator, Olenka Villarreal. What initially drew me to Magical Bridge were the images of the extraordinary playhouse that is at once playful and refined.
Created by Barbara Butler, it is a tour de force and reflects her vast experience building residential playhouses where parents and kids get to ask for what they really want. The stage element is a feature that I think all playgrounds should have, but never do. The interior details include a bakery and workshop. Best of all, the two-story design makes the ramps logical and well integrated rather than an obvious stuck on ADA requirement.
I was also impressed by the lack of commercial equipment. This is a great illustration of the power of that approach. As with most site-built projects, commercial elements are mainly limited to the actual play apparatus, and all of the support and context is locally crafted providing the best of both worlds — ASTM compliant and maintainable play events in a unique and beautiful presentation.