Study: Correct installation, maintenance of playground surfaces key to accessibility

Oct. 24, 2013


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Results from a five-year Indiana University study of accessible play surfaces reveal the importance of proper installation and regular maintenance. Erring in either can create barriers to play, learning and development for a child with disabilities and can limit the assistance and involvement of parents with mobility impairments.

The National Center on Accessibility, part of the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, evaluated the accessibility of various playground surfaces including poured-in-place rubber, engineered wood fiber, rubber tiles and hybrid surface systems. The U.S. Access Board, which is the federal designated agency that writes accessibility guidelines under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act, awarded the National Center on Accessibility $60,000 to complete the study to provide better guidance to public playground owners such as municipal parks departments and schools.

"The findings from this project, one of the most comprehensive studies of playground surfacing to date, clearly demonstrate that proper installation and maintenance are critical for accessibility," said Jennifer Skulski, principal investigator for the study. "Park and recreation agencies have long struggled with selection of surfacing that meets performance criteria for falls and is also accessible to children with disabilities. We are thrilled to be able to provide public playground owners with much more objective information on the different surface options. This will enable them to make purchasing and long-term maintenance decisions appropriate to their facilities, budgets, personnel resources and the expectations of their citizens."

Skulski said many of the findings were to be expected, especially the most notable, that even within 12 months of installation, each type of surface was found to have accessibility, safety or maintenance issues.

"Unfortunately, there is no perfect playground surface. They all have issues that the playground owner should be aware of in the selection process," she said.

For example, poured-in-place rubber installed at one site was not resilient enough to meet safety standards for impact attenuation. Surface tiles installed at another site had puncture holes, buckling and separating seams that created openings and changes in level on accessible routes.

"The important takeaway here is for public playground owners to understand what issues can exist between the different types of surfaces, from the point of design and installation all the way through to seasonal and weekly maintenance," Skulski said. "If the playground owner can better understand in advance what types of issues might come up, they can be better prepared during the installation process and for maintenance throughout the lifecycle of the playground."

The full report is available on the center's website.

The U.S. Access Board and National Center on Accessibility will conduct a free webinar on accessible play surfaces and the results of the study from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7. Registration is available online.

Skulski can be reached at or 812-856-4422. For additional assistance, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or

About the National Center on Accessibility

The National Center on Accessibility is within the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington. The center is a nationally respected leader in the inclusion of people with disabilities in parks, recreation and tourism. For more than 20 years, the National Center on Accessibility has provided training, technical assistance and research findings such that practitioners may have a better understanding of the methodologies to successfully include people with disabilities in all aspects of recreation and leisure.

About the School of Public Health-Bloomington

With nearly 3,000 students in an array of undergraduate and advanced degree programs, the School of Public Health-Bloomington offers a traditional campus experience enriched by 21st-century innovation. More than 120 faculty in five academic departments -- Department of Kinesiology; Department of Applied Health Science; Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies; Department of Environmental Health; and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics -- conduct research, teach and engage with communities across a broad spectrum of health, wellness and disease-prevention topics. Each department offers numerous majors, minors and opportunities for graduate and undergraduate studies. In addition to its academic departments, the school administers Campus Recreational Sports, which serves roughly 80 percent of the IU Bloomington student body through various intramural, club and individual sports opportunities.