Playspaces

Outdoor and indoor sport and recreation settings vary considerably in their design, size, use and location, from the venue for a chess game, to a football ground.

This section contains principles that can be interpreted and adapted to suit the outdoor recreation setting of play spaces.

This setting is described in terms of its role and use, outlining design principles to consider and to support use by everyone. Universal design key requirements and minimum standard access dimensions for specific elements relating to facilities and installations are provided for design that will assist in maximising the effective use of all areas.

The universal design key requirements have been developed as an easy to access checklist of issues to consider and the minimum access dimensions are based on the Australian Standards for Access and Mobility. While these Standards relate to the requirements of people with a range of access challenges and disabilities, they often generally improve access for all people.

Play spaces

Access to play spaces for both children and adults is important. Play provides important motivation for children to become active, engage with others, extend themselves and adapt and learn skills. There are many physical, social, cognitive and emotional benefits that accrue from play.

Many grandparents with access challenges as well as parents or other supervising adults will accompany children to play spaces. Many people will be using mobility aids such as prams and strollers and others may also use wheelchairs, scooters or assistance animals. Good access is important for everyone. Other factors that determine successful play spaces is play value and safety.

Seniors' playgrounds are also becoming more relevant with the ageing of the population and the emergence of the baby boomers who are acutely aware of the need for exercise and outdoor activity.

Passive play spaces as well as play structures for climbing, balancing, hanging, running, swinging, rocking and rolling, should all be considered. Access to and through each element is important and supports both cognitive and social play experiences.

Infrastructure that supports users of play spaces such as direct access to toilets, drinking fountains, seats at various heights, shade and shelter over viewing areas is also important.

Consideration should be given to the size and location of play spaces and the target audience they are intended for when designing the play spaces. This will assist in determining what elements should be included and what structures, installations and access supports should be provided.

Play spaces are often categorised into a hierarchy across areas or local government municipalities. They are then classified according to their position in the hierarchy which takes into account:

  • the size and nature of the playground
  • the range of attractions it offers
  • the function of the playground (and park) in the community
  • the level of facilities and amenities provided
  • the distance people are likely to travel (catchment)
  • the duration of visits
  • the need for car parking and toilets, and the capacity of the immediate neighbourhood to absorb visitors

It is important that the level of development is appropriate to the classification, especially for local parks, where over-developed sites may attract visitors from further away and create parking and other problems for local residents.

Similarly, it is important that a district or regional park offers adequate facilities to match the level of that park in the hierarchy.

For the purposes of planning, parks with play spaces are often classified as:

  • pocket
  • local
  • district
  • regional.

An overhead view of a universally designed playspace setting.Figure 1: An example of a play space setting

  1. Access to appropriate toilets for all users including people with mobility challenges, for example ambulant and unisex accessible toilets
  2. A continuous accessible path of travel from the site entry to and through any play space
  3. Seating with backs and armrests provided in a variety of configurations and heights that are accessible to adults and children and are located within viewing range of the play components
  4. Signage installed within appropriate 'Zones for viewing' in accordance with Australian Standards  

Design principles

The following key design principles should be considered when developing or upgrading play spaces.

Connections

All elements within playspaces should be connected via a continuous accessible path of travel, for example, car parking, toilets, buildings, play areas, drinking fountains and seating. These elements should be linked so that anyone can easily move to and through all of them and enjoy the location and the facilities to the maximum extent.

Approach

Play spaces require approach routes for both vehicles and pedestrians. These should be well signed with entry points that users can easily find. Use of environmental or architectural cues, a line of trees leading to the entry or similar structures that identify the entry point can assist.

Parking spaces for vehicles of various size and use, including cars, mini-buses and bicycles should be provided in any onsite car parking area. Consideration should be given to vehicles with side and rear loading capacity for people who may be using mobility aids, as well as enough overhead clearance to load and upload items stored on a vehicle’s roof.

Shade and shelter over some parking bays that may be used by people who take a little longer to enter or exit their vehicle are also useful. These bays should be located as close as possible to the entry of the park or garden. The ground surface of the parking area, particularly at designated accessible parking bays, should be level and free from loose material. Use of trees or shrubs that drop foliage or seed pods should be avoided.

An uninterrupted path of travel, free from any hazards or difficult or uneven terrain, should lead users from the car park to the entry point/s of the park or garden.

Drop-off areas that can cater for a variety of vehicles, for example, buses, taxis or cars, should also be provided as close to the principal entry points as possible.

Entry points

Entry points should be easily identifiable and incorporate effective contrasts to the background area. Points of entry, including site, path, fields of play and building entrances, should be wide enough to cater for the access needs of all users. This includes people using mobility aids such as twin prams, scooters or wheelchairs and, for example, an adult with a child who is walking, but who needs to be held by the hand or a person with an assistance animal. Other users could be people carrying bags, cases and equipment.

Consideration should also be given to the type and weight of any gates or doors that may need to be used, to ensure they are not too heavy or difficult to operate.

Latches that can be used easily with one hand that are located at a low height for ease of use by a smaller person or someone using a wheelchair are important. Entry points that incorporate turnstiles, chicanes, or queuing lines can be difficult for some people to manage and alternatives such as clear doorway entrances should be provided. Appropriate access through security gates, particularly during a temporary festival or event in the park or garden, should also be considered.

Paths

Continuous accessible paths of travel free from obstacles should be provided. They should incorporate alternatives to steps, be firm, stable, slip resistant and avoid excessive slopes and crossfalls whenever possible. Ramps with appropriate gradients, kerbs, handrails and landing and resting points should be provided where slopes cannot be avoided.

Paths should incorporate clear lines of sight at key decision making points, as well as visible and textural indication of any hazards, particularly at any location where there may be a pedestrian or vehicle conflict.

Paths should be wide enough for people to easily pass each other when coming from opposite directions. The width of the pathway should be considered in light of the number of expected users, for example, in areas that attract many people, pathways should be wide enough to allow groups of people to pass each other, including users of a range of mobility aids such as prams, pushers and wheelchairs.

Observation areas

Observation areas that allow parents or carers to observe children using play spaces and play installations are critical. These should be located at various key locations within the play space.

Observation areas along paths should be designed so that people who stop to observe or supervise users of play installations do not obstruct the path. Spaces should be provided beside, but connected to, the path for effective use by everyone.

A wider section of path or an extended area beside the path, with a firm, level and slip-resistant surface, should be provided.

Consideration should be given to providing seating with backs and armrests at some of these locations with enough room for users of a range of mobility aids to sit off the pathway in the observation area and transfer onto seating if they choose.

The location of these spaces needs to be planned effectively and any vegetation and fences designed accordingly. Fence height and construction are prime considerations.

Observation areas for pedestrians that are installed above ground level, such as lookouts or viewing platforms, should incorporate barrier-free access with kerbs, easy to grip handrails and safety barriers that are effective but don’t impede the view, particularly for a smaller person, a child sitting in a stroller or a person sitting in a wheelchair.

Tiered observation areas or lookout towers can be made easier to use by considering the gradient of ramps and the incorporation of easy to grip handrails and the design of stairs, including using contrast nosings on the stair treads. Firm, slip-resistant surface finishes, provision of seating and hooped handrails at the end of seating rows, as well as shade and drinking water at the top, will also assist many people to enjoy the experience.

Provision of easy to use adjustable installations such as telescopes or other viewing devices can also increase the enjoyment of the area.

Landscape design

Landscape elements can include paths and garden beds, plants, trees and shrubs and interactive components such as a maze or labyrinth and play equipment as well as statues, sculptures and water features and a variety of other landscape elements. These are all key components of many play spaces and consideration should be given to location, access, interpretation, usability and safety for everyone.

Limitations to a person’s mobility, vision and hearing as well as the interpretation needs of both children and adults should be taken into account in the design and access to these elements.

Key design issues to consider are outlined below:

  • the selection and use of trees with foliage that does not overhang paths and drop branches, seed pods, berries or bark, which can create barriers for all users
  • use of landscaping design and elements to assist with wayfinding, for example:
  • planting of shade trees and plants with different aromas and sounds that can assist users with wayfinding through the area as well as enhance the ambience of the space and create a sense of wellbeing
  • a large sculpture near the entry of a building that can act as a key wayfinding element to assist users to find their way to the entry point
  • consistent use of lightly textured paving, across a pathway to identify the direction to a viewing or seating area which assists people with limitations to vision and other people when looking for somewhere to rest
  • easy to find and follow paths of travel created by the use of low growing plants along path edges, to features such as statues or water fountains and other key viewing elements
  • installation of interesting engagement points such as a maze or labyrinth, to encourage exploration and ‘safe’ risk taking
  • installation of sculptures and structures that can be ‘felt’ as well as ‘seen’
  • incorporating interesting seating designs, with backs and armrests, within landscape structures
  • effective maintenance of sight lines, particularly in areas where key decision making is required, in isolated locations where personal safety could be compromised, or near any family use areas such as play spaces.

Installations

Installations such as litter bins, seating, lighting, drinking fountains (incorporating a low height dog bowl), dog dropping collection points and other installations must be usable by everyone. These should be located off, but connected to, a continuous accessible path of travel. People should be able to easily approach, reach and use the installation.

All installations should incorporate low height, easy to use controls, that can be reached by a smaller person. They should incorporate adequate leg clearance underneath to accommodate someone who is seated. Consideration of the angles of approach and clear space for a person to move around the installations is also important.

Controls with large push buttons that protrude or extend beyond the surrounding surface, or with large levers are usually easier to use. Avoid any controls that require a person to use fine motor skills like ‘one pointed finger’ or that require a constant pressure to operate. The ability for one handed operation is preferred. Sensor operated controls that activate by sensing movement underneath or close to the installation also support ease of use.

The use of effective colour and luminance contrast to adjacent and background surfaces, on installations and elements within installations, will make them easier to identify and also assist with understanding how they are used.

Picnic and rest areas

Rest and picnic areas should include seating with backs and armrests, tables with extended ends or clear spaces to allow for a person using a wheelchair to move underneath or to clip on a child restraint.

Barbecues must be useable by everyone with controls at the front of the hot plate. This ensures they are easy to reach and eliminates the need for people to reach over the top of the hot plate.

A level bench top next to the hotplate, made from glare free, heat resistant material, allows a person to move hot pans and other items easily on and off the hot plate, without the need to lift heavy items.

Barbecues should be located off, but connected to, a continuous accessible path of travel, as well as being close to other important facilities such as toilets and play spaces.

Shade and shelter should be provided over some of these areas so that, depending on weather conditions, people can choose what will best suit their needs.

Where picnic and rest areas incorporate structures, such as a rotunda, there should be level or step free access available, as an alternative to stairs.

Toilets and change rooms

If toilets and change rooms are provided they should be available for use by everyone. In addition to male and female areas, unisex accessible toilets, showers and change rooms are required as these can be effectively used by children as well as adults and carers, including people with a range of access challenges. Key elements to consider include:

  • located on a continuous accessible path of travel from the car parking and pedestrian entry points
  • adequate room size and circulation space
  • wide door opening, with a sliding door where possible
  • easy to see and use door occupied indicator, handle and flushing control
  • appropriate grab rails at the side and back of the toilet pan
  • appropriate toilet pan distance from the side and rear wall
  • toilet paper that is easily reached from the pan
  • soap dispenser and hand dryer that are easily reached from the hand basin
  • hand basin at an accessible height with appropriate leg clearance underneath
  • baby change table where space allows
  • adjustable height shower head
  • non -slip shower seat with legs for support
  • grab rails on walls of shower
  • level, slip resistant floor surfaces in both wet and dry conditions
  • adult change table with a hoist
  • interconnecting change spaces with a lockable door in between
  • facilities for both left and right handed users 
  • provision of ambulant accessible facilities that are useful for people who use mobility aids such as prams and strollers.

Play equipment

Access to play equipment for both children and adults is important. Many grandparents with access challenges as well as parents or other supervising adults will accompany children to and onto play spaces. Many people will be using mobility aids such as prams and strollers and others may also use wheelchairs, scooters or assistance animals. Good access is important for everyone.

Seniors' playgrounds are also becoming more relevant with the ageing of the population and the emergence of the baby boomers who are acutely aware of the need for exercise and outdoor activity.

Passive play spaces as well as play structures for climbing, balancing, hanging, running, swinging, rocking and rolling, should all be considered. Access to and through each element is important and supports both cognitive and social play experiences. Some key elements of play spaces include:

  • multi-purpose play activities such as sand diggers, climbing equipment, ball courts, cubbies or swings
  • interesting places or surfaces that suggest particular games or encourage activities such as rolling, hiding or running
  • vegetation, sand or loose materials that invite building, collecting or creative imaginative play
  • elements that provide acceptable risk, changes in surfaces and sensory elements that include tactile, audible and components with scent or smell
  • maintenance of clear sightlines to assist with supervising children.

Water

The availability of drinking water for both people and animals is important. Children and adults as well as people using assistance animals will require access to drinking fountains, bowls or other ways of obtaining drinking water. Drinking fountains that are easy to reach, have large lever handles for operation and incorporate a low level drinking bowl for an assistance animal, support access for everyone. A firm slip resistant surface around the installation to support access is also important.

Wayfinding and information

A successful wayfinding system should minimise anxiety and confusion, should be easy to understand and allow for everyone to equitably access all information provided. Wayfinding relies on a succession of communication cues provided throughout an environment.  Cues may be visual, audible or tactile.

A visual way finding system incorporating cues such as architecture, landscape design, fountains, flagpoles, lighting, landmarks and other orientation points should be developed for the play space.

Signage is also a critical key element of an effective way finding system.

Signs and information about key features including walking trails, places of interest, interactive elements and components of the area, as well as the location of car parking, toilets and buildings must be freely available in a range of formats, so that people can prepare to enjoy the park or garden they are visiting. Consideration should be given to four different types of signs:

  • identification
  • information
  • directional
  • safety or regulatory, prohibition and advisory.

It is important to ensure that everyone can effectively interpret and use these different types of signage within the environment.

Accessible signage incorporates the positive elements of traditional signage as well as alternatives such as Braille and tactile and audio elements and gives consideration to a number of other key components that impact on accessibility and usability. When designing accessible signage, consideration should be given to the following:

  • language
  • location
  • content
  • typeface or font
  • letter spacing
  • size of letters
  • appropriate symbols
  • tactile and Braille
  • contrast and colour
  • illumination
  • alternatives to traditional signage, for example, audio.

Signage incorporating the international symbol of access and or deafness should be used to identify accessible elements where appropriate.

In addition, signage at play installations incorporating specific communication symbols, that assist with interpretation and use, as well as tactile and Braille components will support users with a range of access challenges including vision, hearing, and cognitive issues.

Lighting

Effective, glare free lighting should be provided throughout areas that are likely to be used at night.

This can include pathways, seating, building entrances and exits as well as areas that may pose a safety risk, such as at pedestrian and vehicle conflict areas, stairs and ramps.

For design principles and further information read Good Play Space Guide: "I can play too" (pdf, 1.42 MB) .

Checklist of key elements

Consideration must be given to universal design in play spaces relating to a wide range of key elements. In relation to play spaces the key elements include:

Paths of travel

Car parking, set down and waiting

Entrances and exits

Toilets, showers and change rooms

Installations

Communication and information

Links to other relevant information

Good Play Space Guide: "I can play too" (pdf, 1.42 MB)