When discussing an inclusive playground, part of the conversation should focus on elevated vs. ground level play. The key point here is that it is just a discussion, elevation on a playground is not always a necessity. According to Fiona Robbe, a preeminent landscape architect from Australia, “Elevated play must have a reward: an amazing view and/or several play activities for everyone.”
When designing an inclusive playground, you can make a decision not to do a ramped structure and instead use a wide variety of ground level equipment. Challenging spinners, climbers and slides can be combined with games, balance activities, and easier equipment to create a challenging play area for all children.
Some children like to experience height while playing. They like to be above everyone else, as it is exciting and gives a sense of achievement. However, if this requires a lot of ramps and a considerable amount of space, creating that elevated play space may not provide the best play experience for all children. Equipment such as rope climbers, hills, and boulders could be utilized to offer a similar challenge.
If there is a ramped structure there should be activities that all children can do beyond climbing or going down a slide. The activities at each new level should have depth and breadth. As a child stops at each platform along the ramp circuit they should find exciting things to do such as play music, use talking tubes to communicate with the people on the ground or peer through a periscope.
If the reward of climbing up high is a bird’s eye perspective, then the safety panels should not block the view from young children and people using wheelchairs. Panels that create a look-through are one way to preserve the view for all. If the reward is a slide at the very top, then the ramp should go all the way up to ensure that all children can reach the slide.
Just as there are many reasons to provide elevated activities on the playground, there are just as many reasons to limit or eliminate them and create a different type of playground. The authors of the Inclusive Play Design Guide encourage designers to examine all options available and not to start with a preconceived notion of what an inclusive playground looks like. Each playground should meet the needs of the community it serves and as a result each playground should look and feel different.
Do you feel that elevated play spaces are necessary on a playground?