Designing playgrounds for inclusion may require more than a Universal Design approach

Moore, A. ., Boyle, B. ., & Lynch, H. . (2023). Designing public playgrounds for inclusion: A scoping review of grey literature guidelines for Universal Design. Children’s Geographies, 21, 422-441.

Universal Design (UD) is based on the understanding that products, environments, programs, and services should be designed in a way that makes them usable by people of all ability levels, without adaptation or special design. This study was based on a concern about the lack of research evidence concerning the applicability of UD for playground design. Communities have needed to consult best practice guidelines, published in numerous grey literature guidelines internationally, resulting in a lack of consensus on core principles for applying UD. To address this concern, a scoping review of the international grey literature was conducted. Grey literature refers to literature produced by individuals or organizations outside of commercial and/or academic publishers.

This scoping review of the grey literature focused specifically on guidelines for the design of public playgrounds for inclusion of people with differing abilities. Twenty-seven documents published in four different regions of the world (North America, Australasia, Europe and Asia) were included in this review. Guidelines published in these documents were analyzed for design approaches, design principles, and design recommendations.

Three design approaches were identified: UD, inclusive design (designing for inclusion), and accessible design (designing for disability). UD and inclusive design were the most common approaches, often in combination. Two of the documents, however, used accessible design exclusively as a design approach. Apart from these two documents, there was “an overall recognition of the need to move beyond minimum accessibility," resulting in use of a combination of approaches. Eighteen of the twenty-seven documents included design principles for designing public playgrounds for inclusion; however, only four used the principles of UD, suggesting that the authors did not find UD principles helpful in their contexts. Twenty-two of the documents expressed the need for co-design – that is, involving children, adults, and the wider community in designing public playgrounds for inclusion. The documents included numerous design recommendations for inclusion. The recommendations addressed (1) play value, (2) location, layout and accessibility and (3) support features.  Some of the recommendations specifically mentioned the importance of sensory play and access to nature, natural elements, and natural features.

This research highlights the importance of making provision for different ages, abilities, play preferences and comfort preferences when designing public playgrounds for inclusion. The fact that accessibility, play value, progressive levels of challenge, and a balanced approach to risk were also identified as factors to be considered indicates that UD may need to be tailored for play.

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