Best Practices

Surfacing Materials

Surfacing is one of the most important components in designing safe, accessible play spaces. Many existing play spaces have been built with non-accessible surfacing materials (pea gravel and sand), excluding many children and caregivers with mobility challenges.

Parking and Curbs

If provided, parking areas should allocate at least one space for people with disabilities (3.7 m wide, 7.5 m. deep, including a 1.2 m wide walkway) with a safe, curb-free route to the main walkway. The walkway should connect directly with the play space.


The most important element of a play space is being able to get to it. Walkways connecting to the play space from buildings, sidewalks, and adjacent parking lots are important in creating an easy to navigate site. Play happens along walkways and pathways, and attention should be paid to the design of the route including places to sit.


A site does not need to be level to make it wheelchair accessible. To add interest and stimulation, use existing slopes and excavate the site to create a shallow depression or add a slight slope to flat terrain. Slopes should not be at a steeper grade than 5% to remain wheelchair accessible.

Borders and Access to Equipment

Include entry points anywhere along a border to a play area. This is provided through flush access with a maximum of ½” drop from the adjacent path onto the play surface. Some school districts are working towards adopting an equipment installation standard to provide universal access.


For universal access, knee clearance (680 mm high) helps to provide wheelchair access under tables, counters, and drinking fountains.


Benches and seating areas are important components of a play area. They offer important social spaces for students, caregivers, and teachers.

Manufactured Equipment

Equipment choices should be selected based on the following key principles:

  • A focus on providing imaginative play opportunities for both active and quiet play. Prioritize features that stimulate open-ended, social, and creative play rather than limited play opportunities, such as static play panels.
  • A rich variety of ground-level play features to enhance accessibility for children with mobility impairments.
  • Access to high-interest, fun areas of the play space; too often, ramps lead to a platform where there is not much to do for a child using a wheelchair or mobility aid.

Equipment suppliers offer a wide variety of equipment. While specialized equipment may also be available, a universal approach offers more opportunity for interaction and fun for all kids.
kids playing at sand table
Here are some examples of equipment that can be made accessible to promote the development of all children:

To promote social and emotional development: Work, sand and play tables, play counter, play hut/fort, roller slide, saucer swing, spinning nets, crawl tunnel

To promote perceptual motor development: Saucer swing, spring teeter totter, spring rides or platform, spinner (bowl or net), slides

To promote physical development: Chinning bars, inclined ladders, parallel bars, nets, slides, bridges, basketball hoops

To promote sensory development: Sound panel or music panel, sand and water play, aromatic plants and gardens

Landscape Elements

boardwalk and pathway with textural cue

Natural elements offer some of the most interesting and meaningful play experiences for all children, instilling a sense of autonomy, curiosity, and discovery. The elements listed below can be configured with Universal Design principles in mind, creating a sensory-rich and stimulating environment for children of all abilities. Many play spaces have incorporated low-cost, low-maintenance materials to create more natural spaces, including:

  • Pathways and boardwalks (supporting exploration and providing better access);
  • Garden space offering aromatic plants and opportunities for children to grow vegetables or create a native plant garden, with raised planter boxes to provide universal access;
  • Performance spaces (stage) for free play or school programs;
  • Painted games area (oversize chess board, chalkboard, mazes, 4-square, ball games, or hopscotch);
  • Landforms/topography (exploration of movement);
  • Seating and gathering spaces for informal play or outdoor classroom;
  • Games tables and work spaces;
  • Trees and plants for shade, exploration, and creating habitat for butterflies and other wildlife;
  • Boulders and logs for climbing, discovery, seating, and social play;
  • Sand, water, and other loose components for manipulation and discovery (in accessible boxes);
  • Rain garden to demonstrate where storm water goes;
  • Public Art pieces such as murals or sculptures for play and discovery; and
  • Arbor or trellis for shade and visual interest.

For more information on following best practices when designing an accessible play space, download our Let's Play Toolkit here.

An updated 2018 version of this toolkit will be available Spring 2018.