Our design philosophy at Landscape Structures is heavily influenced by the tenets of Universal Design, a theory of design that strives to make environments more usable, safer and healthier for all. This philosophy has been part of our commitment to inclusion since co-founder, Steve King, was appointed to the Federal Access Board’s Recreation Access Advisory Committee in 1993.
Universal Design sets us up for equity, which is a step above equality. Equality is giving everyone the same treatment whereas equity is what we use to provide success and opportunity to all. So Universal Design goes beyond providing everyone the access to an even playing field… it delivers a chance to thrive in it.
Universal design simply means that it’s for everyone. Young, old, all levels of ability status, parents with a stroller, individuals that refuse to make two trips carrying the groceries inside… everyone. In theory, it should just be called design.
Our team of designers, engineers and inclusive play experts follow the Seven Principles of Universal Design:
- Equitable Use. The design is useful to people with diverse abilities.
This is about as many people as possible being able to use a product in a really similar way. This is stuff like poured-in-place surfacing or turf with seamless transitions. People using mobility devices could roll on it as smoothly as non-users could walk on it. The We-Go-Round®, We-Go-Swing® and Sway Fun® glider are examples of playground components that fit this category.
- Flexibility in Use. The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities giving users a choice in how they engage each activity.
Flexibility in use offers choice to users, and a great example of this is the We-Go-Round. Individuals in wheelchairs can roll on and stay in their chairs or choose to transfer to the seat—they have and choice and can participate in whatever way they feel most comfortable. Other examples include the elevated sand table at different heights and multiple types of playground swings with unitary surfacing paths. It also includes having seating, sinks, hand dryers, adult-sized changing tables, etc. throughout the park and playground available for a variety of body heights and types to give people the option to find their flexible fit.
- Simple and Intuitive Use. Use of the design is easy to understand regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.
If an individual sees a drum, they know what to do with it. If they see the OmniSpin® Spinner, they know where to push it to make it go and where to sit to ride. It doesn’t cause stress or complications trying to figure it out. Obviously, there is a desire to provide challenge to kids on a play space with events that aren’t immediately intuitive, but in this case if the intent of the component is to spin, we want everyone to be able to figure that out quickly.
- Perceptible Information. The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
Symbol communication signs are a great tool to help all users communicate effectively while visiting parks and playgrounds. If there’s information people need to know or be able to communicate, it falls under this category. Think of a splash pad sign with all the rules—lots of words used to communicate “no eating” could easily be understood with a little circle crossing out food. It’s a more universal method of communication that more people can understand. Additionally, using color contrast and textures provide cues on changes in elevation, alert individuals to busier areas and much more.
- Tolerance for Error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
With this design principal, planners discuss adding a fence to a play space to help keep kids that may wander or run away stay safe and contained. Another example of this is incorporating barriers on a commercial playground structure, which is meant to reduce the chances of a child accidentally backing up and falling off it. Additionally, when there is mixed safety surfacing such as engineered wood fiber (EWF) with rubber, the EWF must stay maintained so that there aren’t any major drop-offs to create hazards. If there have a sand table or something a wheelchair is supposed to roll underneath, the surfacing should extend underneath the front wheels to avoid having those users tip forward.
- Low Physical Effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably.
Anything that keeps user more comfortable for longer, is considered low physical effort. Commercial shade structures, and gradual, low grade are two big topics to consider. Additionally, consider swing seat choices as well as those for the ZipKrooz®. Think of the kid who fatigues a bit quicker, with the Molded Bucket Seat they can still get that zooming sensation, but in a reclined position that’s less demanding on them.
- Size and Space for Approach and Use. Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.
This principal gives people the chance to move around comfortably. If a standard sidewalk is 36-inches wide and a wheelchair is 26 of those inches, there’s no size or space for anyone to move through the space alongside the wheelchair user. Going extra wide with paths allow not only users with mobility devices a more comfortable experience but so too someone with a service dog or cane, or someone deaf or hard of hearing. The same theory goes for double-wide ramps and activity panels on the playground. Is there room for someone to push up to and play with it? Or if a wheelchair user is engaging with something, is there enough room for others to get around the chair?
Through Universal Design, we increase access, safety, comfort and social participation within all our play environments. This process creates a strong foundation for inclusive playground design that ultimately results in a place where all can play, learn and grow together. Learn more about our commitment to inclusive play at playlsi.com, or by contacting your local playground consultant.