Accessibility

Similar to the development of safety standards, the developments of accessibility standards to ensure that playgrounds accommodate all children represents an advancement of thinking about how to provide environments for children (and caregivers) with disabilities. In the past, these needs were largely addressed through the creation of separate spaces for children with disabilities, many of which were affiliated with the institutions they attended. Architect Richard Dattner’s book, Design for Play (1974), included a chapter on playgrounds for disabled children. Although the examples he discussed were not public playgrounds, but those affiliated with institutions, they illustrated the way that the design concepts and intended play experience of the adventure-style playgrounds could be extended to children of all abilities. Subsequent developments in thinking about the importance of integrating or mainstreaming disabled children into the public environment resulted in the construction of the Playground for all Children in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, which opened in 1984 as the first playground for both disabled and able-bodied children in the United States (image 33). In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The ADA requires the removal of barriers that exclude people with disabilities from public services and places of public accommodation. In addition to an ongoing obligation to remove physical barriers whenever doing so is readily achievable, and to provide alternate means of access to equivalent programs and services when barriers do exist, ADA requires that public facilities be made physically accessible when they are built or renovated. Playgrounds reconstructed since the 1990s have been designed to comply with ADA, and in 1997, the Conservancy built a universally accessible playground at East 100th Street that includes an elevated sand table, a post-and-platform play structure with a ramp for wheelchairs, accessible swings, and an accessible rest room. Since the passage of ADA, guidelines for making facilities accessible have continued to evolve, and specific standards for public playgrounds have been developed.