In 2010 ADA standards were announced and scheduled to take effect (compliance) by March 15, 2012. Recreation facilities are included in this new standard and include exercise and play areas. The standards were orginally published in 2004 by the U.S. Access Board and now these areas must meet all of the same requirements as other public and commercial areas. Routes must now be considered to allow children access not only in a wheelchair, but with many other physical impairments. We must now include ground play components on an accessible route.
There is a huge up front cost difference in engineered wood fiber (also known as EWF or playground mulch) and unitary surfacing (tile or poured in place). While the surfacing choice is not mandated, accessibility and maintenance is. Trying to maintain wood surfacing in a play area requires more attention and regular replenishment. Keeping all areas filled to required depth of material is complicated along the main path to the entrance (stairs) and around slides or other exits. Areas beneath swings, like around slide exits, seem to have perpetual ruts. Using unitary surface materials keeps this more consistent in impact protection. At a minimum consider traffic or wear pads at these high traffic areas.
For more information, recently published 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (U.S. Department of Justice) helps to identify, highlight and illustrate areas that should be considered when planning, designing, maintaining or retrofitting of a playground. The 2005 U.S. Access Board, Summary of Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas is also a good tool with illustrations and examples to aid in your planning.
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DunRite Playgrounds http://www.dunriteplaygrounds.com