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All-Abilities Playgrounds

There are many other quotes about play, but they all talk to the need for all of us to engage in play.  In doing so, we evolve into the person we are to become.  In late 2011 CasaBella Architects was hired by Eanes ISD to provide ADA renovation design work for all their campuses in the district.  Later our work was expanded to design fully compliant ADA playgrounds for four (4) elementary schools.  (A fifth was later added to the contract.)


Throughout the process, our firm learned more and more about play and what made a playground special, for children of all abilities.  One of the most important design elements we learned about was that there were two key “places” on a play structure.  The top, where a child could have a good view of their domain, and the other under the structure, where a child could create their imaginary games.


In order to achieve the first objective, we designed bridges to provide access for all children to the top.  This became easier in the hill country where retaining walls could be used as launching places for bridges to connect to the top.


One of the most fun features we designed was a colossal ramp to allow wheelchairs to go up or down from one play area to the other, there being a 7’ difference in elevation between the two levels.  To avoid handrails, the ramp had to have a slope of less than 5% which resulted into a ramp of approximately 175’ in length.  In order to make the ramp fit, there had to be 5 switchbacks.  It then occurred to us that we could design the ramp to include curves in the shape of a “running W”.  Once the 2D shape of the ramp was established and placed on the playground, we then looked at what it could look like in 3D.  We created small mounds inside the tight curves, eliminated all retaining walls and created a mountain for kids to run up and own on, while others used the ramp.  What a great day when we sent to see the playground opened and the children used the ramp just as we had hoped!”

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