How to Start an Inclusive Park

How to start an inclusive park

Inclusive parks make the outdoors fun and enjoyable for everyone. These facilities should offer playgrounds, picnic areas and other equipment that encourages people of all abilities to spend time together in the fresh air. When it comes to how to make a park an inclusive one, there are several factors that should come into play, including understanding the differences between inclusive and accessible facilities.

What Does Inclusive Mean? How Is Inclusive Different From Accessible?

Inclusive parks are not the same as accessible areas. Accessible spaces meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure people with mobility aids can easily reach amenities of the area.

To start an inclusive space, you must make it adhere to ADA requirements by law. Making accessible restrooms, playgrounds and parking will serve as the beginning of making an inclusive area.

Inclusivity means that everyone, regardless of age, ability or background, can participate together. Consequently, you cannot segregate accessible areas if you want to have an inclusive space.

For instance, having separated entrances or play areas for visitors with wheelchairs would not be inclusive, especially if the space doesn’t consider others with different physical and mental abilities. On the other hand, if a park is not accessible at all, it cannot be inclusive. For a park to be inclusive, everyone needs to feel welcome and have access to the park’s amenities in an equitable way.

15 ways to make a park inclusive

15 Ways to Make a Park Inclusive

Parks for inclusion give kids, adults, families and individuals from all backgrounds a fun place to spend time. To ensure you create such a location for your community, you need to do more than simply design a park with inclusive elements. You must also work to educate people in the community about the features available and offer programs to make people of all abilities feel welcome.

1. Create a Committee and Collaborate With Community Members From a Diverse Set of Backgrounds

Start your inclusive park project by gathering experts to create a committee. Include people with disabilities and parents who are raising children with disabilities on your committee.

boy smiling on playground

This committee will make decisions and keep the project on track to ensure it finishes as close to on time and within budget as possible. Committee members should have connections to the community or expertise in public space planning.

Additionally, you should have consultants from the community who come from a diverse set of backgrounds. These community members do not have to sit on the committee. But they will offer valuable insights into what people with disabilities and individuals without disabilities need in the park.

Also, offer public forums for feedback from the community on what they want from the park. Find out the types of amenities they want and the features they need. For instance, in hot climates, the community may want to have an inclusive water park for summer play.

2. Select a Site for Creating the Inclusive Park

Find a site for the park that offers good drainage, proximity to community members and room for the installation of restroom facilities and water fountains. The less landscaping you need to do on the site to improve drainage and accessibility, the lower the total project cost will be. However, you should also make it close to the community members most likely to use it. Placing the park in a central location or near a residential area may encourage people to visit.

Even if the park is close to people, not everyone will want to or be able to walk to the park. The site should also have access to roads and space for installing parking for those with disabilities. If your area has public transportation, placing the park near a stop will allow more people to access the park through mass transit.

3. Consult With Designers Who Have Experience in Inclusive Design

Always connect with experts in inclusive design. These professionals know what it takes to ensure your park meets the ADA guidelines and promotes community connectedness for people of diverse abilities.

Little girls in bubble together

If you will have a playground in the park, consult with an inclusive playground designer as part of the project and get a quote for a play area that meets your park’s needs.

4. Budget the Project and Acquire Funding

Take the advice of the committee and community members, and create a budget for the project to meet as many needs as possible. Always keep accessibility and inclusivity at the forefront during the planning stages to ensure the finished project will provide a space for all.

children sitting on end on playground slide

Consider in the budget the costs of:

  • Hiring professional consultants, landscapers or builders
  • Improving the land
  • Installing features to the park
  • Promoting the project
  • Providing for the continued maintenance and hosted community events

To cut your costs on the total construction of the park, conduct fundraisers in the community. These events will promote the park, get locals excited about the project and provide additional funding. Also consider getting businesses from the community to sponsor elements of the park to further reduce your financial burden.

5. Plan the Layout of the Park and Choose Equipment

Create a layout for the park, including all the elements you want to use. An orientation path around play areas and other features allow people to look over the whole space to feel more comfortable about the area. These paths that circle the park’s main areas provide easier access to all portions of that feature for those who use wheelchairs or strollers. For instance, an orientation path around a picnic area makes it easier for someone to go around the space to choose the seating they want.

The park’s layout should include different sections, each of which has equipment useable for all people:

  • A restroom and water fountain zone with shady benches provides a cooling rest spot for people during their park stay.
  • Picnic areas should include seating, tables and bins that anyone can use whether they use a wheelchair or not.
  • Play areas should have fencing around them to protect kids from leaving the space while giving them free rein to move around.

boy in wheelchair on inclusive spinner

Offer signage throughout the park so visitors can easily find the features they want to use, as well. Another way of helping community members navigate the park is uploading a map of the park’s layout to the website so people can survey the entire park before they arrive. Make the digital map accessible by using alt text and other features that let anyone with vision impairments understand it. Include a tactile map on-site so visitors, especially people who are visually impaired, can understand the park’s layout.

During the layout phase, choose the equipment to meet inclusion standards and to fit with your park’s design. Comfortable, aesthetically pleasing park elements will make the space more inviting.

6. Create a Project Timeline

The timeline should have strict start and completion dates. Within that span, establish times for finishing land preparation, installing plumbing and electrical services, building restrooms, installing features and landscaping.

When creating the timeline, work with contractors for each component to get the most realistic estimates for the time they need to complete their portion of the work. Some elements will need longer than others to finish. For instance, construction of a restroom building will take longer than installing benches. Plan accordingly when creating the timeline.

Once you’ve made the timeline for construction, remember to add events after completion to tell the public about the park. Schedule an opening day with events to bring the community to the park. Add educational events in schools and in the community that will help to break stereotypes about disabilities. These events can also help the public become more aware of the benefits of having an inclusive park in their midst. Through education, you can help remove the social barriers that exist to creating truly inclusive spaces.

7. Build Inclusive Seating and Picnic Areas

Make sure to include inclusive seating and picnic areas. Tables should be accessible by guests of all abilities. Benches should also have space to accommodate wheelchairs next to them so people can relax on a bench next to their friends or family members who use wheelchairs.

Inclusive seating areas should have some spaces with shade to allow those with sun sensitivity to enjoy outdoor dining. The shaded tables and benches can offer cooling spots for everyone at the park during the summer, as well.

playground bench

When placing tables, benches and bins, have all these elements along paths to make them easily accessible. Bins on paths encourage park users to properly dispose of recyclables and trash to keep the park cleaner. Their location on paths makes them accessible to those with wheelchairs and mobility devices.

Make sure the tops of the bins are low enough for anyone to reach them. If using covered bins to keep animals out of the trash, use lids that only require one hand to put trash or recyclables into the bin. Doing so makes it easier for visitors to use, which ultimately helps keep the park cleaner.

View Park Seating & Furnishings

8. Offer Calming Oases in the Park

Not everyone who uses the park will want loud, exciting features. Or those who do enjoy these types of experiences may need to take breaks occasionally.

Quiet places in the park give kids and adults who need a rest from overstimulation of the park’s elements a place to do so. They can sit quietly in these spaces and feel safe while still staying in the park.

9. Choose Playground Areas Designed With Inclusion in Mind

Playground elements should adhere to the eight keys to inclusive design. These elements include having a wide variety of types of playground equipment with varying challenge levels. A unitary surface also ensures a safe fall zone that kids using wheelchairs can move over.

Inclusive playgrounds should have fun and exciting features for all children. And every kid should have access to the coolest thing in the play area, which they should also be able to use and interact with.

To ensure kids can reach these areas, use easily maneuverable walkways and paths around the playground. These paths should be wide enough to accommodate all types of mobility aids and assistance animals, too.

Play areas should permit service animals to enter, as well. These animals have specialty training to focus only on the people they care for and should not cause disruptions or hazards for other kids in the play area. Many people rely on service animals for mobility, to alert them of medical issues or to assist in other ways. Allowing these animals in the area improves the inclusivity of the entire park.

10. Include Multisensory Elements

Playgrounds and other park features should have multisensory elements that appeal to all senses. For instance, play areas should have options that create sound or appeal to the tactile senses, like:

  • Musical elements like a Drum Panel create an auditory experience.
  • Tactile playground elements, including the Roller Slither Slide and other stimulating equipment, appeal to the sense of touch.
  • Visual elements like the Magnifying Panel delight kids with the bright colors and shapes in the world around them.
  • Nature play in a sandbox or Nature Station gets kids interacting with nature’s exciting sights, sounds and textures.

Multisensory elements make the park more enjoyable for guests. Many tactile and musical elements do not require safety surfacing and can be placed along paths, making them accessible to kids of all ability levels.

View Sensory Play Equipment

11. Have Accessible Parking, Restroom Facilities and Amenities

Some community parks are located along walking trails or otherwise require walking to reach them. However, these spaces make it more difficult for people who drive or use public transit to get to a location. Accessible parking ensures more people can reach the park, even if they need to drive to arrive. And accessible restrooms ensure visitors can enjoy their stay longer.

mom pushing daughter in wheelchair on playground

Restrooms should also have accessible stalls and sinks and an easily reached, centralized location in the park. Consider adding adult changing tables in the restrooms to make them more accessible. Since plumbing already serves the restrooms, you can also install water fountains or water bottle refill stations in accessible areas. Additionally, if you have a large park planned, consider a second set of restrooms and install multiple water fountains throughout the park along paths.

Another feature you should consider to improve the safety of the park for all are emergency call boxes that allow individuals to reach emergency services without relying on cell phones or cell service. Have adequate lighting near these boxes and throughout the park, particularly if it will be open when it’s dark out.

12. Design a Wayfinding System to Help People Navigate the Park

While signs around the park can help many people navigate the area, consider consulting with a vision orientation specialist to design a wayfinding system to support those who are blind or visually impaired. An inclusive wayfinding system can include bold, contrasting colors at steps or sidewalks and differing pavement textures to indicate a change. An orientation specialist might also suggest utilizing sound cues and barriers like short poles to help those with low vision determine where they want to go.

Including low-vision wayfinding can promote the inclusivity of the park and guide people toward features they may want to use.

13. Offer Watering Spots to Accommodate Service Animals and Pets

Make people who use service animals feel welcome by providing watering spots for these animal companions. If you want to invite pets to the park, too, consider installing a dog park for pets to play in. Include signage to request community members clean up after their pets and provide bags for easy disposal.

When you make service animals welcome at a park, you make those who depend on them also feel included in the community’s gathering spot.

14. Work With Local Schools to Educate Students About Inclusivity

School children may have incorrect ideas about people with disabilities. Host events at schools to educate kids about playing with those who have physical or developmental disabilities. When kids realize that disabilities should not be a barrier to making new friends, they will be more likely to embrace everyone when they use the community park, thereby increasing the inclusivity of the space.

15. Schedule Inclusive Events to Advertise the Park

Bring the message of inclusivity and breaking disability stereotypes to community events. You can host events for everyone at the park soon after it opens. These events can teach everyone in the community about the importance of inclusivity and give them a chance to meet people of all abilities and backgrounds. Plus, you can get people to come to the park for these events, which will advertise its features and cement it as a place for connecting those in the community.

How Do Inclusive Parks Differ From Traditional Parks?

Inclusive parks build on accessibility. Rather than only offering a place for those with wheelchairs or those with developmental differences, an inclusive park creates a safe place for visitors.

children playing together on inclusive equipment

Inclusivity ensures all members of the community have a place to connect with each other, regardless of ability or background. Facilities that let kids and adults have fun with people different from themselves can foster social skills and friendships.

Traditional parks will have standard elements such as restrooms, picnic areas, playgrounds, walking paths and open spaces, and inclusive parks have similar features. However, the inclusive parks will make all these spaces accessible while promoting togetherness with others in the community.

Every person, regardless of developmental or physical ability, can use every part of the park. Because all people can use all facilities in the area, those with and without disabilities can feel free to go wherever they want and enjoy any park amenity they want without worrying about accessibility barriers.

An inclusive park should appeal to visitors of all abilities. If people without disabilities feel bored at the park, the park has not done its job. Therefore, all elements of the park should be fun and useful for people of all abilities.

Inclusive park designs should follow eight keys to inclusion that inclusive playgrounds do. These keys are as follows:

  • Unitary surface: Walking surfaces in the park should allow for strollers, wheelchairs and walkers while providing shock absorption in play areas. Plus, the areas should be on the same level to provide all kids with the opportunity to enjoy them.
  • Everyone has access to the “coolest thing”: People of all abilities should have access to the park’s “coolest thing,” whether it be a particular play component or a scenic area.
  • Fencing: Fence off play areas of the park to keep kids safer by preventing them from wandering away from the park areas.
  • Social play and interaction: Make using the park an interactive experience by providing amenities that encourage cooperation.
  • Sensory-rich experiences: Include features that appeal to all sense systems – auditory, tactile, visual, proprioceptive and vestibular.
  • Multiple challenge levels: Opt for features that promote multiple levels of challenge to encourage everyone of all abilities and ages to enjoy the park. Surmountable challenges create a park that’s engaging.
  • Easily maneuverable routes: Ensure routes through the park are easily accessible to those with wheelchairs or strollers and park amenities are reachable from these routes.

To get assistance with ensuring that the park is inclusive, always consult with a designer certified in creating inclusive spaces. This will ensure your park meets accessibility requirements and provides an inclusive space. Your efforts will be worthwhile when the inclusive park you create becomes a centerpiece of the community.

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Partner With Playworld to Build an Inclusive Park

At Playworld, we bring together communities through inclusive playgrounds. In fact, we created the eight keys to inclusion to guide our customers in creating play spaces for all kids. Let us help to make your park an inclusive oasis for people of all ages and abilities in your community. Get started on creating an inclusive park for individuals of all abilities by requesting a quote from Playworld.

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