Accessible School Playgrounds

It always surprises me how often this comes up. That a mom asks what she can do because the school playground is not accessible to her disabled child.

ada accessible playground

First, deep breaths. I often have to remind myself of Hanlon’s Razor.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Hanlon’s Razor principle

Right? First let’s remind ourselves that they likely did not do this to target our children specifically, even if we feel targeted. More often than not, it’s laziness, stupidity and “we just never got around to it.”

Ok, great, that being said, they need to fix it. It is an ADA issue for them.

ADA Guidelines for Playgrounds

I found this checklist from a Disability Advocacy group in New England. I have not checked it side by side with the most recent re-auth of ADA.

The playground needs to be accessible to your child. Assuming they receive state and federal funding, if a child cannot access the playground, he is “being treated differently than his non-disabled peers” (Office of Civil Rights complaint) and they have some ADA issues.

You can file an ADA complaint, as most disability legislation is complaint-based.

OCR has already published dozens of resolutions about this issue. Below is one example of an agreement after a complaint was filed with OCR.

Accessible Playgrounds

Accessible playgrounds are all the rage right now. Many communities are putting them in as they understand the value of play and socialization. And, how it excludes and segregates our kids when they cannot participate. But those projects are a huge undertaking. Play is valuable. Recreation and being able to recreate and socialize are components of IEPs. If your son has socialization goals or gross motor/PT goals on his IEP, I would ask the team how he can work on those during recess if he cannot access the playground.

Addressing the Accessible Playground Issue with your IEP Team.

It would be lovely if the school would just (duh!) do the right thing and make the playground accessible. Again, Hanlon’s Razor–probably the reason they haven’t done it is that they have never been asked to. Or, they don’t have enough money. That is where I would start.

Ask the teacher and principal about accessing the playground and see what kind of response you get. I’m also assuming here that you just want the playground accessible so that he can socialize and interact with his peers.

You are not asking for one of those million-dollar special playgrounds, so you’re being reasonable.

I certainly would advocate for this and push for it. At the same time being cautious and taking a collaborative approach. Recently I heard of a situation where a child needed a very expensive service/accommodation, and he got it. However, the school made it very well known (to everyone) that “there are no field trips this year because we needed to use the money for Student’s service instead.” Yeah, that. It was a crappy thing to do and you certainly wouldn’t want to open up your child for that kind of chastising. “Sorry kids, we had to close the entire playground because Student wanted to use it and we can’t afford the upgrades.”

Sure, we can scream “that’s illegal!” about that particular case all day long. The horse is out of the barn.

So I would try to keep conversations upbeat and collaborative.

Funding an Accessible Playground

I would try to get some information on what kind of modifications would have to be made and how much it would cost. While it shouldn’t be your responsibility, you may want to contact local Lions, Rotary, and groups like that and ask them all to chip in $1000 or $2000 to collectively cover the cost.

If your child just needs a sidewalk or ramp, call local concrete contractors and see if they will do it at cost or as a donation. Ask your school personnel if they need you to write a letter for them to pursue some type of grant. In other words, offer to help to the best that you are able to. Bring in other parents in your situation at your school, if there are any, and work together. Research online as to how communities do get their special needs playgrounds funded and see if you can replicate it.

And if that doesn’t work, you have to decide how far you want to take it. As I linked one such OCR complaint above, you can see that the law is on your side. But, that’s the long and stressful way to get there.

I wouldn’t start out this way, but you can always contact attorneys and the media or your local legislator and see if that changes their mind. But like my Nan always said, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Try being a part of the solution first.

ADA Playgrounds in the Community

Municipal playgrounds are still bound to ADA, even if they are not a school. The process is the same. Start with your town council or mayor’s office, whichever municipal entity is responsible.

My little guy at the special needs playground at Cedar Beach, Allentown PA. (not a school playground)
My little guy at the special needs playground at Cedar Beach, Allentown PA. (not a school playground)